Diabolique magazine has launched an on-line petition drive to convince Warner Home Video to release Hammer horror classics on Blu-ray to the American market. Some of these titles are available in restored Blu-ray editions in the UK but American Hammer fans have had to sit silently and salivate while their overseas friends relish watching first-rate releases of these films. As our readers know, Cinema Retro has the greatest respect for the work done by Warner Home Video and the Warner Archive- and we believe this is a cause worth supporting because it would benefit not only the studio but legions of grateful Hammer fans as well.
NOTE: THIS REVIEW PERTAINS TO THE UK REGION 2 BLU-RAY RELEASE
By Darren Allison
on the short story by Ernest Hemingway, Don Siegel’s movie was a remake of the 1946
Robert Siodmak film of the same name. Originally, the film was to be one of the
first to be made for American TV; however NBC deemed the film too violent for
TV and subsequently the film was shown in theatres. The move to theatres may
have been considered as a blessing in disguise, as the film enjoyed some rather
good reviews in America. In Europe however, it proved even more successful, in
fact, in the UK, The Killers went on to receive a 1966 BAFTA for Lee Marvin in
the Best Foreign Actor category. So it is with a great deal of excitement that
we welcome Arrow’s new Blu Ray release of this cult classic and consider how it
holds up some 50 years on.
Strom (Lee Marvin) is a cold blooded and experienced hit man. Along with his
young partner Lee (Clu Gulager), we join them as they enter a suburban school
for the blind. Suited smartly and wearing dark glasses, it soon becomes apparent
that the nature of their visit is far from pleasant. After violently attacking
the (blind) receptionist, Charlie and Lee proceed to search the corridors of
the school in search of their prey Johnny North (John Cassavetes). North, a onetime
big shot race driver, is now teaching car engineering at the school. Whilst
North is alerted that two men are in the school and closing in on him, he makes
no attempt to flee from the scene. After Charlie and Lee crash the classroom
and get confirmation of their target, North stands there, unflinching in his
fate – and openly receives the killers’ bullets.
is obvious from these opening five minutes that we are witnessing something
rather interesting. First, there is the violence. Whilst Charlie’s attack on
the blind receptionist takes place off camera, the heightened sound of her
brutal attack plays havoc in the mind’s eye. The atmosphere is loaded to the
max – witnessed first by Lee’s teasing tension building, the tipping of a vase
of water over the her desk, the mocking gesture of his fingers in front of her
blank, expressionless face. Suddenly, it becomes rather clear what may have
been going through the heads of NBC bosses upon their initial viewing of the
film! Secondly, Siegel cleverly employs the ‘Dutch Angle’ (or oblique angle)
technique when focusing on his two hit men as they both survey the school
corridors. Not only does he succeed in creating a rather unsettling POV for the
audience – but arguably suggests that we are certainly observing a couple of
‘unbalanced’ characters. Originating from German expressionism in the 1920s, the
procedure was (somewhat relevantly) used to depict ‘madness or unrest’ – making
it a rather interesting choice of direction on Siegel’s part. Thirdly, there is
Johnny North’s execution and the use of slow motion photography to showcase his
death. While Sam Peckinpah (who was a protégé of Siegel) had used slow motion on
TV in The Losers in 1963, Siegel’s use in The Killers is an extreme and early
example of its use (particularly in such violent fashion) in American cinema.
on from the opening ‘hit’, Charlie and Lee are on a train, Charlie is somewhat troubled
by North’s final actions, he’s never seen a man just stand there and take it.
Figuring there may have been more to this than a simple hit, they decide to
investigate deeper. They detour to Miami and track down North’s racing partner Earl
Sylvester (Claude Akins) who spills the story of North’s involvement with the
stunning Sheila Farr (Angie Dickinson). From here on, the back story of a mail
heist is slowly revealed involving Mickey Farmer (Norman Fell) and Jack
Browning (Ronald Reagan). Reagan appears here in his last film role before
taking up politics and eventually becoming governor of California in 1966.
Gathering up the information and setting the pieces of the jigsaw in place,
Charlie and Lee track down the individuals in order to find the missing loot
and retire on the proceeds. A path of deceit, revenge and double crosses soon
begins to emerge and eventually leads to a bloody climax.
Blu Ray release of The Killers looks far better than I could have ever imagined.It is certainly a stylish presentation, apart
from a very rare blemish or dirt spec it is a very nice, clean print which also
benefits from a fine level of film grain. The Black detail is fairly consistent
throughout, whilst colours are vibrant (as one would expect for a title of this
period), resulting in a rich, realistic pallet with beautifully detailed flesh tones.
Unlike a lot of 60s films, The Killers offers little room to hide in terms of detail,
there are no soft focus shots when it comes to close ups of Angie Dickinson -
but it remains clear, with great depth and fine texture. Obvious composites
such as back projection on the train with Charlie and Lee can look a little fuzzier,
but hey, this is the 1960s and representative of everything that we’ve come to
love about the period. Sound is presented in clear, uncompressed 2.0 mono PCM
the film was originally filmed in Academy Ratio (for TV) Arrow has had the good
sense to present both the 1.33:1 version and the theatrical matted 1.85:1
(16:9) version. I have to say, after watching both versions I was very impressed
by the matted version. I’m usually somewhat critical of this process, as of
course the 1.33:1 contains more picture information. But the framing here is
really very good indeed, and naturally this is down to director Siegel. With
Arrow including both versions on their disc, they have certainly eliminated
themselves from any negative criticism – ‘should have used this, shouldn’t have
used that…’ so top marks for making that decision.
Original American lobby card showing Ronald Reagan in his last screen appearance before entering politics.
are also some very nice extras including Reagan Kills: an interview with New
York Times bestselling writer Marc Eliot, author of ‘Ronald Reagan: The
Hollywood Years’. Then there is Screen Killer: interview with Dwayne Epstein,
author of ‘Lee Marvin: Point Blank’ a very entertaining and detailed 30 minute
feature. Plus there is also a rare archive interview with Don Siegel (1984)
from the French television series ‘Cinéma Cinémas’ and, to round off a very
nice package, there is also a gallery of rare behind-the-scenes images.
the check disc I received for review purposes arrived in a generic clear case,
but the retail version comes with a reversible sleeve containing both the
wonderful original artwork (contained here) and a newly commissioned design by Nathanael
Marsh. Again, Arrow seems to have covered every eventuality in this department,
satisfying both the purists and those open to more modern concepts. Whilst
unable to give full details, there is also a booklet featuring new writing on
the film by Mike Sutton, extracts from Don Siegel’s autobiography and
contemporary reviews plus illustrations of original lobby cards, which I’m
sure, would have been a most enjoyable read. Overall, The Killers remains both
an important and incredibly powerful film that continues to flex a whole lot of
muscle. Lovers of 60s Cinema, Screen heroes, Don Siegel or simply great movies in
general, will certainly lap this one up. Miss it at your peril!
There has been a very positive response to Cinema Retro's coverage of "B" WWII movies in our recent issues. Writer Howard Hughes has concentrated on the films produced by Oakmont Productions, the British-based company that financed and released such modestly-budgeted gems as Attack on the Iron Coast, The Thousand Plane Raid, Hell Boats, Submarine X-1 and Mosquito Squadron. These films had no lofty pretenses of being potential Oscar winners. Instead, they were made simply to generate a modest profit. However, they tended to be intelligently scripted and well-directed and acted, with showcase roles afforded to stars who didn't usually get top-billing (Lloyd Bridges, Christopher George, David McCallum). The 1970 film Underground was not an Oakmont production but is largely indistinguishable from the company's catalog of titles. It stars Robert Goulet as Dawson, an embittered American agent for military intelligence who is based in England. Dawson is wracked by guilt because his mission behind German lines in occupied France ended disastrously. Both he and his fellow agent (his wife) were captured. Dawson, under extreme torture, revealed his wife's true identity and she suffered a horrendous death at the hands of the Gestapo. Dawson managed to escape and make his way back to England, though how he achieved this remarkable feat is glossed over in the script. The film opens with Dawson bluffing his way aboard a plane carrying a fellow agent on a new mission over occupied France. Dawson, who is determined to atone for his previous failure by taking on this mission himself, disables the agent and parachutes in his place to meet his contacts in the French Resistance. His French underground colleagues find him to be a bitter, unpleasant man and it isn't long before they realize that he is an imposter for their real contact. Nevertheless, Dawson persuades them to let him carry out the important mission which involves kidnapping a high profile German general who has vital intelligence information and bringing him back to England. Dawon's team is headed by Boule (Lawrence Dobkin), a head strong and valiantly man who frequently locks horns with Dobson over strategy. The team also includes Yvonne (Daniele Gaubert), a beautiful agent who is Boule's wife. Complications ensue when Dawson shows his more human side and he and Yvonne secretly become lovers.
Underground is the kind of film that often receives the backhanded praise of benefiting from "workmanlike" efficiency from its stars and director Arthur H. Nadel. Yet, like the Oakmont productions, it probably plays better in today's era of overblown, CGI-stuffed action movies than it did at the time of its initial release. The film is tightly scripted and the plan to capture the German general is straight out of a top-of-the-line Mission: Impossible episode. The movie was shot on location in Ireland but the countryside passes convincingly for France. Goulet, grim and determined, makes for an impressive leading man and there are fine turns by Lawrence Dobkin and Carl Duering, who is impressive as the German general who adds a clever plot twist to the story line. Like most of these WWII mini "epics" of the period, the production team manages to make the film look far more expensive than it probably was. The action sequences are exciting and well-staged, particularly a climactic shootout as Dawson awaits the arrival of a British plane on a makeshift runway as German forces close in on him and his team.
Underground has been released by MGM on DVD. Transfer quality is very good but there are no bonus extras.
One forgets how busy Leonard Nimoy was during the early
and mid ‘70s. There’s a tendency to think he vanished once his three year hitch
as Mister Spock on NBC’s Star Trek was over, but he was everywhere for a while,
acting in Mission: Impossible,
lending his voice to the classic show In
Search Of…, writing books of poetry, and even recording albums.Granted, his demonic eyebrows and somber
voice limited him to some degree – he would always seem otherworldly - but he
had an undeniable star quality.
In late January of 1973, Nimoy starred in Baffled!, an NBC Tuesday Night Movie of the Week. It was projected as a
possible TV series, where Nimoy would play Tom Kovack, a race car driver who
survives a crash but returns from his near death experience with the ability to
see visions of the future. Unfortunately,
the idea didn’t take off. By the year’s end, Nimoy was supplying the voice of
Spock for a Star Trek animated
series. He never quite escaped the role
that made him famous, but in Baffled!,
he appeared to be trying very hard to create a new character. Now available on
DVD from Scorpion Releasing, viewers can judge Baffled! for themselves and decide whether Nimoy could’ve succeeded
in another series.
The movie starts with the crash. Kovack is roaring around a speedway when he
begins hallucinating that a Victorian manor has popped up in the middle of the
track. His car spins out; he goes flying through the air, and the next thing we
know he’s being interviewed on a talk show. He discusses his visions, but stops
short of saying he has ESP. Meanwhile, a paranormal expert named Michelle Brent
(Susan Hampshire) contacts him, believing Kovack is blessed with special powers.
Soon, Kovack and Brent are in England, investigating a complicated case
involving a weird family, a mansion that may or may not be haunted, and some
sort of curse involving a wolf’s head insignia.
At its best, Baffled!
feels a bit like other ‘70s shows such as Night
Galleryand The Sixth Sense. It
even owes a bit to The Avengers, minus
the cheeky, swingin’ London vibe. At its
worst, Baffled! is a bit dry and takes
too long to get from one point to the next. It was directed by Phiip Leacock, a television
veteran who specialized in one-hour shows like The Waltons. At times, Baffled!
feels like an hour show padded out to make a feature length piece. One wonders if NBC opted out of the series
because of the slowness of the movie, rather than looking at Nimoy’s
The flaws of the movie aside, Nimoy is fun to watch
here. He tries to be the kind of
wise-cracking leading man that series television required in those days, and
even pulls off a few action scenes. NBC may have missed a good bet when they
didn’t pick this one up 40 years ago. With some care, it could’ve worked.
The Scorpion Releasing DVD includes the UK version of Baffled!, which is 89 minutes long (The
US version is 99 minutes). It’s presented in full screen for, after all, it was
a TV show. There are also some trailers for other Scorpion DVD releases,
including a nice clip of Peter Bogdanovich’s Saint Jack. If for no other
reason, the disc is worth a look to see Nimoy battling his way out of Spock’s
Criterion has released a dual format Blu-ray/DVD edition of director Michael Mann's 1981 crime thriller Thief starring James Caan. It's a highly impressive film on many levels, especially when one considers this was Mann's big screen feature debut. He had previously directed the acclaimed 1979 TV movie The Jericho Mile, which was set in Folsom Prison. Mann was inspired by his interaction with the world of convicts and wrote the screenplay for Thief, which is credited as being based on author Frank Hohimer's novel The Home Invaders, but he maintains virtually none of the source material ended up on screen. The story centers on Frank (James Caan), a bitter man with a troubled past. As a child he was raised in state-run homes before being sent to jail for a petty crime. Inside prison, he committed violent acts in order to defend himself but this only resulted in lengthier jail terms. By the time he has been released, he has spent half of his life behind bars. While in jail, Frank befriended Okla (Willie Nelson), a older man and master thief who is doing a life sentence. He becomes Frank's mentor and father figure and teaches him the tools of the trade. When Frank is finally released, he becomes a master at his craft, which is pulling off seemingly impossible heists of cash and diamonds. Before long, he has become a legend in his field. As a cover, Frank runs a major used car dealership and a small bar. However, he realizes that his luck will certainly run out at some point and he is determined to retire after making a few more, high end scores. He works with a small team consisting of two confederates (James Belushi, Willam LaValley) who are also pros in gaining access to seemingly impenetrable vaults. The headstrong Frank wants to also settle down and raise a family. He makes an awkward introduction to Jessie (Tuesday Weld), an equally head strong, down-on-her luck character who nevertheless becomes smitten by him and ends up marrying him. The couple face frustration, however, when their attempts to adopt a baby are thwarted by Frank's criminal record. Frank is ultimately approached by Leo (Robert Prosky), a local crime lord who entices him to stop working independently and pull off a high profile heist for a fortune in diamonds. Frank rejects the offer but eventually he relents, though he is reluctant to work with a new partner. Leo has managed to break through Frank's cynicism by showering him with praise the benefits of his influence, which include arranging for Frank and Jessie to illegally adopt the baby they want so desperately. The lure of being able to retire after this one huge score leads Frank to go against his better judgment and he agrees to work for Leo on this one big job. The diamonds are located in a vault so secure that it would seem to be better suited for Fort Knox. In order to break in, Frank and his team must use highly sophisticated drills and other equipment that would rival the top gear used by any branch of the military. On the verge of realizing his greatest score, however, things go terribly wrong on any number of levels. Frank, seeing his world crumble around him, goes on a violent rampage of destruction and self-destruction.
Thief is a highly stylized movie that moves at a rapid clip and features one of James Caan's strongest performances. The problem, however, is that the character of Frank is so obnoxious, he is difficult to warm to. Peckinpah, Scorsese and Coppola always had a knack for making disreputable characters seem appealing, but Frank is nasty, arrogant and self-centered. This is certainly realistic, given the bitter feelings he has toward society, but the viewer never warms to him in any meaningful way. He is only sympathetic because the people he deals with are so much worse. Nevertheless, Thief is a crackling good yarn that boasts some fine performances especially by Tuesday Weld and character actor Robert Prosky, who is brilliant in a scene-stealing role. Willie Nelson's screen time is very limited but he makes effective use of his two scenes. The film features superb cinematography by Donald E. Thorin, who made his debut here as Director of Cinematography. His night sequences on the rain-slicked streets of Chicago evoke visions of neon-lit nightmare. The film features an electronic score by Tangerine Dream, the band that provided the music for Willliam Friedkin's Sorcerer. Strangely, their score for that films holds up well but their work in Thief comes across as a bit monotonous and dated. The film's ultra-violent conclusion is exciting but rather cliched with Frank turning into yet another pissed off screen hero who decides to take down all of his enemies in an orgy of shootouts and destruction. (I know it sounds petty but I can never accept such sequences when they are set in urban neighborhoods in which no one ever seems to call the police even as houses explode and machine gun fire is sprayed all over the place. Even Chicago residents aren't that immune to the effects of violent crime). The film excels, however, in the break-in sequences which are superbly directed and feature camerawork that make the crime scenelook like an attraction from Disney World, with fireworks-like sparks filling the air.
The Criterion Blu-ray transfer is superb on every level. Extras include a commentary track by Michael Mann and James Caan that was recorded in 1995. There are also fresh video interviews with both men that are rather candid. (Caan, who has worked consistently through his career, modestly says "I was rather popular at one time" in reference to his work on the film. Mann says he is still debating in his mind whether he regrets using Tangerine Dream's score) There is also an interview with Johannes Schmoelling of the band, who discusses working with Mann to create the score. An original trailer is included as is a nicely illustrated booklet with an informative essay by film critic Nick James.
Time to put up your Dukes! (DVDs, that is!) Cinema Retro has received this exciting press announcement from Warner Home Video:
JOHN WAYNE: THE EPIC COLLECTION DEBUTS MAY 20
DVD COLLECTION OF 40 WARNER AND PARMOUNT FILMS IS LARGEST JOHN WAYNE BOX SET EVER
INCLUDES HOURS OF SPECIAL FEATURES AND REMARKABLE MEMORABILIA
FOURTH ANNUAL JOHN WAYNE FILM FESTIVAL SET FOR APRIL 24-27 IN DALLAS
Burbank, Calif., February 24, 2014 -- To
commemorate one of America’s most iconic film heroes, Warner Bros. Home
Entertainment will introduce a comprehensive new DVD set -- John
Wayne: The Epic Collection-- on May 20. The spring release, just in
time for Father’s Day gift-giving ($149.98 SRP), will contain 38 discs with 40
Wayne films (full list below), including The
Searchers, once called one of the most influential movies in American
history and the film for which Wayne
won his Best Actor Academy Award®, True Grit (1969). The collection comes packaged in a handsome book with
unique collectibles and hours of special features.
The coffee table book includes a
chronological presentation of Wayne films, enhanced with wonderful photographs;
the hours of special features include commentaries, documentaries, featurettes,
vintage shorts and classic cartoons; and the special John Wayne collectibles include
personal correspondence, script pages/covers, pages with Wayne’s notations and
Wayne’s legacy will also be celebrated at the 4th
annual John Wayne Film Festival in Dallas from April 24th through
the 27th. The four-day festival will feature screenings of some of
Wayne’s classic feature films, Q + A sessions with Wayne family members and
co-stars, and parties celebrating the John Wayne heritage and legacy. All the
proceeds from the festival will benefit the John Wayne Cancer Foundation.
In making the announcement of the new
collection, Jeff Baker, WHV’s Executive VP and General Manager, Theatrical
Catalog said, “Thanks to our recent strategic alliance with Paramount and their
catalog titles, we’re delighted to be able to offer this number of titles representing
such a broad range of Wayne’s work. Wayne was one of the most popular film stars
ever. For more than a quarter century he was one of the tops at the worldwide box-office.
This collection will certainly be a ‘must have’ for loyal John Wayne fans and,
hopefully, will have an equal appeal to younger folks who want to learn more
Born Marion Robert Morrison in
Winterset, Iowa, John Wayne first worked in the film business as a laborer on
the Fox lot during summer vacations from U.S.C., which he attended on a
football scholarship. He met and was befriended by John Ford,
a young director who was beginning to make a name for himself in action films,
comedies and dramas. It was Ford who recommended Wayne for his first leading
For the next nine years, Wayne worked
in a multitude of B-Westerns and serials in between bit parts in larger
features. Wayne’s big break came in 1939, when Ford cast him as the Ringo Kid
in the adventure Stagecoach. Wayne
nearly stole the picture from his more seasoned co-stars, and his career as a
box-office superstar began. During his 50 year film career, Wayne played the
lead in more than 140 movies, an as yet unsurpassed
record, and was nominated for three Academy Awards®, winning the Best
Actor award for his performance in True
Discs In John Wayne: The Epic Collection
Big Stampede/Ride Him Cowboy/Haunted Gold, 1932
Telegraph Trail/Somewhere in Sonora/Man from Monterey, 1933
Ballroom Confidential is a modestly-budgeted 2013 documentary production by director Brian Lilla. The film centers on Caleb Young, a 44 year-old gay man who found himself drifting through life without any clear cut ambitions or plans. He was trying to cope with the tragedy of having lost the "love of his life" due to a terminal illness. Young was living in Manhattan when the 9/11 attacks occurred and shook him emotionally. He ended up settling in Florida where his mother inspired him to do something tangible with his talents as a dancer. Young had made a living as a professional entertainer and drag performer mostly in gay venues. Inspired by his mother's confidence but financially broke, he cobbled together enough funds to open up the Absolutely Ballroom salon in Ormond Beach where he quickly established himself as a popular dance instructor. The movie opens with Caleb and choreographer Joe Mounts rehearsing with their students for a much-anticipated one night production of a fun, spy-themed show that will play for a local audience comprised of family and friends of those who are performing in the show. (The dance studio is adorned with some really cool James Bond international movie posters.) Overwhelmingly, the students are elderly women, most of whom have been widowed. For them, ballroom dancing is the elixir of life, acting as a diversion for what might otherwise be a lonely existence. Caleb's mother appears throughout, as she is one of the performers in the show. Amusingly, she is joined by her husband (Caleb's step-father), a macho guy who initially rejected ballroom dancing on the basis that it was too feminine. By the end of the film, however, he's as dedicated as any of the ladies in ensuring that the show must go on.
Director Lilla is working with a bare bones budget and virtually all of the action is understandably confined to the dance studio or the homes of some of the students. They are an amusing assortment of people and the friendships they have formed which each other are readily apparent. There are shy ladies, divas and hams...but all of them seem very charming. The film is often quite moving, especially in sequences in which some of the women describe how the loss of a long-time spouse has a devastating impact on the remaining partner. It's also rather touching to see ladies in their 80s and 90s getting dolled up to star as glamour girls in the big production. The film is a valentine to the art of dance and never takes any cheap shots at any of the participants, no matter how eccentric some may be. It is also rather amusing to see Joe Mounts, a burly bear of a guy who would look more at home in a Scorsese movie, delicately dancing with and instructing his students. As the countdown towards the opening night continues to tick, the pressure on everyone continues to build until opening night finally arrives.
Ballroom Confidential is a sweet and touching film that looks at the best aspects of human behavior and presents its participants in a dignified light. Caleb Young is an ingratiating fellow who has obviously brought great joy to his community through giving elderly people a renewed sense of purpose in their lives and that, more so than any specific dance production, is probably the legacy he can be most proud of.
Click here to order the DVD from the official web site.
Amazon is offering $105 off The Columbia Best Pictures boxed DVD set containing 11 winners of the Best Picture Oscar. Here are the details:
14-disc set of 11 Best Picture Oscar winning films in an attractive, collectible, black fiber cover with slipcase. The pages within will have film synopsis, details on the Oscar win for each film, and art from key scenes. This set features Columbia Pictures' Best Picture Oscar winners spanning the years from 1934 to 1982 and include the following films:
1934 It Happened One Night 1938 You Can't Take It with You 1949 All the King's Men 1953 From Here to Eternity 1954 On the Waterfront 1957 The Bridge on the River Kwai 1962 Lawrence of Arabia 1966 A Man for All Seasons 1968 Oliver! 1979 Kramer vs. Kramer 1982 Gandhi
Bonus extras include:
Ben Kingsley talks about Gandhi
Designing Gandhi Lord Attenborough Audio Commentary From the Director's Chair In Search of Gandhi Looking Back Madeleine Slade: An Englishwoman Abroad Reflections on Ben Shooting an Epic in India An Introduction from Lord Richard Attenborough The Funeral The Making of Gandhi Photo Montage The Words Of Mahatma Gandhi Vintage Lobby cards Vintage Newsreel footage Commentary by Frank Capra Jr. Frank Capra Jr. Remembers... "It Happened One Night" Vintage Advertising The Life of Saint Thomas More Milestones in the Life of Gandhi Gandhi weblink Commentary by Frank Capra Jr. & Author Cathrine Kellison Frank Capra Jr. Remembers... You Can't Take It With You Documentary: "Finding the Truth: The Making of Kramer vs. Kramer" Contender: Mastering The Method Commentary with Critic Richard Schickel and Film Historian Jeff Young Interview with Director Elia Kazan Original Live Radio Broadcast Featurette: The Making Of From Here To Eternity Excerpt from "Fred Zinnemann: As I See It" Audio Commentary from Tim Zinnemann and Alvin Sargent Making of Lawrence of Arabia Exclusive Documentary - Adaptation of Boulle's novel, casting, history f production, score, release, restoration and more. Meeting Oliver! Rise and Fall of a Jungle Giant A Conversation with Steven Speilberg Maan, Jordan: The Camels Are Cast (1 of 4 Original Featurettes) An Appreciation by John Milius Oliver's Nice & Easy Quiz Fagin's Tricky Quiz Romance of Arabia (3rd of 4 Original Featurettes) Bill Sikes' Fiendishly Hard Quiz Interactive Map of London Original Newsreel Footage of the New York Premiere Advertising Campaigns Charles Dickens Timeline Dance and Sing-a-Long to your favorite Musical Numbers!
Vinegar Syndrome has released another "Peekarama" double feature of hardcore retro porn from the 1970s. In the amusingly garish packaging, it promises both features are "Full Color, Widescreen" as though the productions were directed by John Ford. First up is Deep Roots, which has to be the only attempt to mingle Alex Haley's landmark bestseller and TV mini-series with the peculiar oral talents of Linda Lovelace. Such creative marketing has long been a mainstay of the porn business which always incorporated the latest social phenomenons into grind house productions. Remember On Golden Blonde and Romancing the Bone? Deep Roots presents top-liner Jesse Chacan as Billy, a beefy, good-looking Native American guy who is bored with life on the reservation. He inherits a house in L.A. and decides to move there. The opening sequences actually boast some real production values and some relatively impressive camerawork as we watch Billy drive his motorcycle through the city streets then do the tourist bit on foot. There's a retro kitsch appeal to seeing him walking through the big city and admiring a wax figure of Paul Newman and John Wayne's hand print at Grauman's. 'lest the audience gets too restless, however, things start moving fast for Billy in the romance department. He picks up a free-spirited, buxom hippie girl and within minutes she's stark naked and being body-painted by him. (This was the '70s, after all.) Billy has an eye for another nubile young girl but her reluctance to surrender her virginity to him results in him seducing her sexually insatiable girlfriend. So much for Billy getting in touch with his feminine side. The "plot" follows its leading man as he samples a seemingly endless array of willing women. Thrown in out of nowhere is a subplot featuring a forty-something cougar who looks like the love child of Mae West and Dolly Parton. The whole film ends up in an orgy sequence hosted by a guy dressed like Groucho Marx(!) For reasons unexplained, Billy finds the prospect of having free sex numerous times a day with good looking women to be difficult to cope with so, in the film's abbreviated finale, he returns to his previously-discarded girlfriend on the reservation. Presumably, he's matured quite a bit...and now also knows how to incorporate the image of Groucho Marx into erotic bedroom sessions. Deep Roots ("Deeper Than "Throat"...More Powerful Than "Roots" read the poster) is average retro porn fare from the era, if not a grade above a lot of the "one reelers" produced during the period. The women did not have to undergo Botox treatment in those days and, thus, they really do look like a girl who could live next door. (Though unfortunately, never next door to me.) As the male lead, Jesse Chacan's performance is up to par in the physical sense but he has all the charisma of Ted Cassidy's Lurch. The DVD transfer looks pretty good with rich colors and a minimum of splotches on screen.
Starlet Nights, also released in 1978, treads the (even then) cliched path of adopting famous fairy tales as porn movies. In this case, Snow White (Candy Nichols) is an innocent 19 year old girl who is fawned over by her father, a successful Beverly Hills physician. Snow's stepmother (porn legend Leslie Bovee) is jealous of the attention her husband gives to his daughter and schemes to discredit her virginal image by luring her into a sex orgy that dad will presumably witness when he comes home from work. The trappings of the Snow White legend are awkwardly interwoven in the tale. Every character has a name derived from the fairy tale and the wicked step mom consults a variety of wizards who reside in her bedroom mirror. She ultimately succeeds in getting Snow into the sex movie industry but her jealousy only increases when she becomes a major prospect for stardom. As with Deep Roots, everything comes to a head (so to speak) in the orgy sequence, but the step mom's plans go awry here when her hubby has to attend a business meeting overnight, thus being deprived of witnessing Snow's depraved behavior. Not one to waste a good orgy, the step mom gets in to the mode and the action heats up. Like Deep Roots, there are some effective production values in Starlet Nights, which was supposedly directed by a woman named Lisa Barr, but in reality was directed by a guy named Joseph Bardo who used the nom de plume for marketing purposes. ("A Woman Porn Director????") There are some good L.A. location shots including sequences filmed outside major studios. (Retro geeks will enjoy seeing huge billboards for "current" movies like Close Encounters of the Third Kind.) The performances are all dreadful but the sex scenes are genuinely erotic and there are even some original pop music songs on the soundtrack that rise to the level of "not as bad as you might have expected." The DVD transfer is quite good but there are plenty of artifacts from where the reel changes took place. However, these just add to the flavor of watching a genuine grind house double feature.
In all, another enjoyable release from Vinegar Syndrome.
My heart raced a bit when LaShonda, Cinema Retro’s
inter-office mail carrier, dropped off a new title from Vinegar Syndrome this
morning. Those fellows specialize in long forgotten’70s sleaze, and while most
of their titles should probably remain forgotten, their latest "lost
treasure" was the enticingly titled Game
Show Models. The models, I imagined,
would frolic in bikinis and enjoy a few pillow fights before revealing their
true identities as secret agents, or something along those lines. I thanked
LaShonda, locked the door, and plunked the disc into the machine.
Show Models, to my dismay, isn't even about models.
It's about a young man named Stuart Goober (John Vickory) who left his girlfriend
to pursue his vague dreams of success. She’d
seemed like a decent, free-loving sort, the kind of young woman who paints her
face and dances in the street for money, but Goober has given himself a
five-year plan and time is running out, baby. As written, Goober is one of those Sweet Smell of Success schemers who
wants to scratch his way to the top, but director/writer David Gottlieb cast
Vickory, a soft spoken, Peter Fonda/Michael Sarrazin type. Vickory isn’t fiery
enough to make us believe he gives a damn about making it big. He seems more
like a coffee shop hippie.
Things pick up a bit when the aptly named Goober gets a
job with a Los Angeles public relations agency. The firm’s latest client is
Cici Sheridan (Diane Sommerfield), a young rock & roll singer surrounded by
family members and a stone-faced posse, each determined to protect her from the
dangers of show biz. After quizzing the agency goons on the names of the seven
dwarves from Snow White, Cici
inexplicably falls for Goober. Well, so
much for the models.
One of the original tag-lines for the film read:
'You've seen them give out the prizes on Daytime TV - Now see the Goodies they
give out at Night!' Yet, there's not
much model action here. There is some
nudity and some sex, including the opening scene where a guy makes his model
girlfriend wear a Japanese mask while they make love (similar, incidentally, to
the mask in Kaneto Shindô's Onibaba, a
great 1964 movie you should watch instead of this one). Full disclosure: I'm not a great judge of sex
scenes. Even the best of them look dumb to me. The only sex scene I've ever
really liked was a five-second lesbian scene in The Last Emperor. In that
one, the girls looked like they were having fun, and it didn't go on for so
long that they ran out of ideas. In Game
Show Models, we get a lot of grimacing, and groping, and of course, the Onibaba mask.
By the end, Goober is disillusioned by show business
and seeks out his old girlfriend, the one who danced in the street. Naturally,
she's already shacked up with someone new, but she invites Goober to join in on
one of her interpretive dances. Cue the bittersweet theme music, roll the final
credits, and get us the hell out of here.
Show Models is an uneven mess, but it isn't entirely
without merit. The film has a nice,
‘Vaseline on the lens’ mid-70s look, thanks to cinematographer Alan Capps, and
there’s a lot of great LA scenery. The game show set, loaded with brilliant
pinks and yellows, is a kitschy marvel, as is the PR firm, which is an explosion
of craggy men wearing ugly neckties and gemstone rings the size of dinosaur eggs.
The supporting cast is pretty interesting, too.
Well-known character actors Dick Miller and Sid Melton steal every scene they’re
in. Diane Thomas, who would go on to become a successful screenwriter before
her death in a 1985 car crash, is touching as Josie, Goober’s dancing
girlfriend. LA Times entertainment
editor Charles Champlin has a funny cameo as himself. Meanwhile, Cici's
entourage includes Thelma Houston, whose career had skyrocketed in 1976 with
her Grammy winning recording of ‘Don't Leave Me This Way,’ and Willie Bobo, one
of the top Latin jazz drummer/bandleaders of the era.
Did this colorful cast know what they were signing on
for? Maybe not, for as we learn in the DVD's commentary track, Gottlieb didn't
set out to make a skin flick. He originally intended to make an artsy film
called The Seventh Dwarf about his
own experiences working in a public relations firm. It was Sam Sherman of Independent
International Pictures who suggested Gottlieb add some dirty stuff so he’d
“have something to latch onto.” It was
also Sherman, who’d made a successful career out of producing such exploitation
fare as Blazing Stewardesses (1975),
who suggested the game show angle. Gottlieb, who hadn’t wanted to make an
exploitation film, agreed. It was either
that, or continue lugging around giant film cans and being turned down by
Vinegar Syndrome’s 2-disc set features anamorphic
widescreen (1.85:1) transfers of both cuts of the film. The Seventh Dwarf is a bit more dog-eared, and the Dolby Digital
2.0 mono tracks are hissy at times, particularly at the beginning of both discs.
The outtakes (7:56) feature some additional game show footage, some frames from
the opening sex scene, and some unexpectedly overt (not hardcore) moments in the
bedroom scene with Goober and Cici. Gottlieb, evidently, was going for broke in
order to get his film shown. A gallery of stills is also included, plus a
rather tedious conversation between Gottlieb and Vinegar Syndrome’s Joe Rubin. Ultimately,
this film that Vinegar Syndrome is marketing as “a mind bending blend of art
house drama and drive-in sleaze,” is neither artsy enough or sleazy enough. Gottlieb fumbled in trying to serve two
Perhaps the oddest thing about the film (both versions)
is that Harriet Schock's lovely 'Hollywood Town' serves as the film's
unofficial theme song. Indeed, the song,
which was the title track of Ms. Schock’s 1974 debut album, feels out of place
in the film, like a butterfly landing on a busted open garbage bag. But the song does lend gravitas to the film, and
fits in with the theme of LA being, “where the lost and found come to find
their way.” Schock, who wrote the Helen
Reddy hit, ‘Aint No Way To Treat a Lady,’ and recorded several top selling
albums of her own, told Cinema Retro that she had no idea her song was featured
in Game Show Models.
“Somehow I missed that,” Ms. Schock said. “The publisher probably kept the sync fee and
I simply never knew about it.”
Since she didn’t mention Game Show Models in her on-line bio, I’d wondered if she distanced
herself from the movie. It turns out she’d never even heard of it.
“Is it porn?” Ms. Schock asked, curious as to how her
song was used. “Should I be worried?”
Twilight Time has released the 1966 epic Khartoum as a Blu-ray special edition. Officially the film was a Cinerama production but the process used was 70mm, not the original Cinerama three-strip format. The film, impressively directed by Basil Dearden, was met with respectable, if unenthusiastic, reviews upon its initial release. The boxoffice take was also anemic especially in the all-important American market where the film's historical basis was largely unknown to U.S. audiences. However, Khartoum has always had enthusiastic defenders and their ranks seem to be growing as the years pass, especially in an age when such "thinking man's epics" are few and far between. The film boasts two magnificent performances by two larger-than-life stars. Charlton Heston stars as General "Chinese" Gordon, so named because of his record of military victories in China. Laurence Olivier is The Mahdi, the self-described religious prophet who is on a fanatical course to convert everyone in the Arab world to either convert to Islam or die a violent death. The film opens with an excellent prologue that gives a snap shot of the political situation in the 1880s and how this affected the British empire. Britain was allied with Egypt at the time and considered itself to be that nation's military protector. The Mahdi took advantage of the politically fluid situation in the Sudan to gain a major foothold in taking over the government by commanding a growing army of fanatical followers. The Mahdi hated the Egyptians because he felt they were too secular and their ties to the West had sold out their religious obligations to Islam. The Egyptians feared that the Mahdi's growing power would leave them unable to defeat him in an all-out war should he ultimately seize control of the Sudan. The British sent an officer corps to lead Egyptian troops in a preemptive strike against the Mahdi. However, the religious leader outwitted them by drawing the invaders into the oppressive desert and then slaughtering the exhausted soldiers. The Mahdi was now making his move to take control of the crown jewel of the Sudan, the city of Khartoum which is situated on the banks of the Nile.
The film presents the British Prime Minister, William Gladstone (Ralph Richardson) as going against the tide of England's obsession with colonialism. He doesn't want anything to do with sending a major force into the Middle East to combat an army of religious zealots- yet he feels a sense of obligation to make at least a token effort to evacuate a significant number of Egyptian citizens from Khartoum before the Mahdi lays siege to the city. He reluctantly sends General Gordon on a mission that is very much doomed from its inception. Gordon was highly respected in the Sudan, having ended the slave trade there. He is stubborn, arrogant and generally ignores orders. However, he is regarded as a virtual saint by the Sudanese. Gladstone calculates that by sending Gordon of a fool's errand, he will take the blame if his mission fails. Gordon sees through the ploy but his ego gets the better of him and he accepts the challenge. He is accompanied by Col. Stewart (Richard Johnson), who acts as his right hand man even though he admits to being a personal spy for Gladstone. The abrasive relationship between Gordon and Stewart eventually turns to mutual respect and the two men work together on thwarting the Mahdi's plans. Upon arrival in Khartoum, Gordon abandons his primary mission which is to evacuate Egyptian nationals down the Nile via riverboat. Instead, he makes a daring visit to the Mahdi's camp and attempts to get the "prophet" to show mercy on the citizens of the city. When the Mahdi makes clear he intends to slaughter every man, woman and child who does not swear loyalty to him, Gordon informs his adversary that he will mount a defense of the city. Gordon sends Stewart on the long voyage back to England to blackmail Gladstone into sending a British military expeditionary force. Gladstone is outraged but agrees to do so because the British public is impressed with Gordon's courage and the gallantry of his mission. Meanwhile, in Khartoum, Gordon sets about fortifying the city- and praying that the British troops arrive before the Mahdi can advance upon the city, the garrison of which is greatly outnumbered.
Khartoum is a lavish epic that boasts fine performances across the board. The action sequences are thrilling and spectacularly filmed and the entire production impresses on every level. The Twilight Time Blu-ray does point out the film's flaws, however. In the commentary track by film historians Lem Dobbs, Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo (the latter two are among the founders of the video label), they rather pointedly call out various aspects of the movie for falling short. In the aggregate, they believe Khartoum is a Wal-mart version of a David Lean epic. They observe (correctly) that there are some really bad rear screen projection shots and that most of the production was filmed at England's Pinewood Studios, with on-location Middle East filming spread out to look more extensive than it actually was. There is also criticism of the historical aspects of the film. Apparently Gordon was as much a fanatic for Christianity as the Mahdi was for Islam- indeed, he sounds as though he was a complete crackpot. None of that is alluded to in the script, which obviously intended to present Gordon as a more traditional hero. Amusingly, every now and then the trio of film historians remind the viewer (and each other) that they really do like Khartoum, but then they quickly get back to tearing it down. Other justifiable criticisms they have is that the film presents some impressive British character actors in the London sequences but fails to utilize them in any meaningful way. They just stand around like props. It is also observed that the two meetings between Gordon and the Mahdi that are depicted in the movie never took place in real life. Call it commerce over historical accuracy, as the studio wasn't about to disappoint viewers from enjoying the smartly-written byplay between the two leads. Redman, Dobbs and Kirgo also appropriately give credit to famed stunt director Yakima Canutt for bringing the film's stirring battle sequences to fruition- and they heap lukewarm praise on composer Frank Cordell for what this reviewer thinks is actually a magnificent score. In totality, much of the joy of this Twilight Time release comes through the informative audio commentary, even if you may disagree with our "hosts". The transfer is magnificent and the release boasts the usual excellent collector's booklet with liner notes by Julie Kirgo. An original trailer is included as is a cool compilation trailer promoting the 90th anniversary of MGM.
The region free release is limited to 3,000 units.
A textbook example of how to make an action/adventure movie, Captain Phillips represents a triumph for director Paul Greengrass and star Tom Hanks. The acclaimed film closely follows the real life story of Richard Phillips, the American merchant marine captain who was assigned in 2009 to navigate a massive cargo vessel laden with millions of dollars of goods as well as humanitarian supplies through the Horn of Africa. This necessitated that the vessel had to tempt fate by entering waters in which Somali pirates had been terrifying ship's crews and often holding them hostage for ransom. As fate would have it, Phillips and his crew found themselves menaced by a skiff of heavily armed pirates who managed to board their vessel despite gallant attempts to thwart them. (The film only minimally discusses the self-defeating policy of sending crews into harm's way without so much as small arms to defend themselves.) Phillips acts decisively and instructs his crew to hide in within the bowels of their ship while he and his first mate attempt to bribe the pirates into making a quick exit. The ploy doesn't work and the leader of the group, Muse (Barkhad Abdi) insists on holding the crew ransom in return for millions of dollars. We won't provide any spoilers here but suffice it to say that clever and daring actions by Phillips and his men results in the pirates disembarking the ship in an enclosed, hi-tech lifeboat with only Phillips as hostage. Although the captain has saved his vessel and his men, his own situation is precarious as his captors hurry toward Somalia where his rescue would be even more complicated.
Director Greengrass wastes nary a frame in expository elements of the film. The movie opens with Phillips bidding his wife farewell as he is about to embark on yet another seemingly endless voyage. He meets his crew and he is presented as a strict, no-nonsense commander but one who gains the respect of his men. Not long after setting sail on their mission, the vessel is attacked by the pirates. Thus begins a cat-and-mouse game that is both physical and psychological as Muse and Phillips attempt to outmaneuver each other. The excellent screenplay by Billy Ray avoids any heavy handed social commentary, but it does humanize the villains. In the film's opening sequence we see them being forced into piracy under threat to their lives by greedy local warlords. Muse, who speaks relatively fluent English, is but a humble local fisherman who has been dragooned into violent acts. If he doesn't bring home a trophy for ransom, he is likely doomed. His three companions range from immature in personality to bristling with potential sadism. Muse strikes a temperate balance, reassuring Phillips he will be safe once the ransom is paid. The final section of the movie deals with Phillips' attempted rescue by the U.S. Navy, including a Seals team that courageously made a night parachute drop into shark-filled waters to enact a daring plan that is right out of Mission: Impossible. Hanks gives a brilliant performance, one of the best of his career. He never overplays Phillips' courageous acts. He makes some daring decisions and moves, but throughout he is scared to death, as any sane man would be. The supporting cast, compromised largely of relatively unknown actors, is terrific. Paul Greengrass brings the suspense to an almost unbearable level in the film's nail-biting finale.
The Sony DVD special edition includes a commentary track by Hanks and Greengrass as well as an extensive documentary about the making of the film that includes interviews with the real Captain Phillips, who seems every bit as charismatic as his on-screen counterpart. The documentary reveals that the extraordinary Somali actors are all residents of the United States, having emigrated there as young people. It's a joyful experience to watch these actors relish their opportunity to star in a major Hollywood film. (Although Bardi has been nominated a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, Hanks and Greengrass were inexcusably overlooked.) The documentary also discusses Greengrass's determination to minimize studio shooting in favor of actually filming aboard the merchant marine vessel. It makes it all the more impressive when one sees the obstacles that cinematographer Barry Ackroyd had to overcome to obtain the incredible shots he achieved in such confined spaces. Kudos, also, to editor Christopher Rouse for an equally impressive achievement. The other extras are a trailer gallery of recent films including The Monuments Men and American Hustle, but curiously does not include a trailer for Captain Phillips.
This is an intelligent, rousing adventure story that ranks among the best action movies of recent years.
When I screened this DVD presentation of the much-hyped HBO movie Behind the Candelabra, about the love affair between Liberace and his young boy toy Scott Thorson, the three people I viewed the movie with unanimously voiced an almost vitriolic response to the film. It had nothing to do with the gay love affair content (they are all dyed-in-the-wool liberals who support gay rights.) Their complaints centered on the fact that the film was boring and pointless and a colossal waste of talent. I was taken aback by the degree of their hatred for this movie but I will concede it was distinctly disappointing. First the background. In 1977 Scott Thorson was a hunky young guy who was introduced to Liberace. They entered an intense relationship that Thorson, in his memoirs, maintained was a legitimate May/December love affair. Before long Thorson had displaced Liberace's previous live-in lover and had moved into the master pianist's opulent but garish mansion. Thorson had been warned that Liberace went through lovers like Kleenex but nevertheless for a four year period he seemed to be an invaluable aspect of Liberace's life. Thorson was not only a companion but a trusted confidant. He was put on Liberace's payroll and became his major domo, even appearing in his act by driving the flamboyant entertainer on stage in a Rolls Royce. Somewhere along the way, however, the wheels fell off the relationship and Thorson found himself out of favor. In an All About Eve-like scenario, he was being upstaged by other young men who had caught Liberace's eye. By this point, Thorson-who had a troubled past and little hope for a professional career- had become financially dependent upon Liberace, who he claimed had promised him financial security for the rest of his life. The result was a messy and highly publicized palimony-type legal battle that saw Thorson getting a modest payment in return for removing himself from Liberace's home and his life.
Behind the Candelabra must have seemed like a sure-fire project from the very beginning. Steven Soderbergh would be directing and two of Hollywood's most legendary heterosexual screen gods, Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, would play Liberace and Scott Thorson in a big screen adaptation of Thorson's book that would be adapted by acclaimed screenwriter Richard LaGravanese. Yet the film was unable to secure a theatrical release. The official theory was that the prospect of two straight screen legends making out together would turn off audiences. This is a valid concern. Way back in 1969, two of England's leading "swordsmen", Richard Burton and Rex Harrison, co-starred as an aging gay couple in Stanley Donen's Staircase. This very fine, little-seen film was avoided like the plague by audiences. Given the fact that films cost a fortune to market and publicize, the decision was made to premiere Behind the Candelabra on HBO. It was received with praise in many quarters and was nominated for any number of international awards, with Douglas winning a Golden Globe. However, one suspects that if the high profile talent had not been involved, the movie might have been treated more harshly. Douglas and Damon give excellent performances and boldly go where no straight actors have gone before, enacting sequences depicting gay sex in a way that probably would have destroyed their careers in less enlightened times. However, the film never grasps the viewer emotionally. The whole thing plays out like a gimmick as though two straight guys thought it might be a hoot to see if they could pull off the challenge of portraying two flamboyantly gay men, one of whom was the most over the top entertainer of his era. When you get over the initial novelty of seeing Douglas prancing around on screen and ogling Damon, who is in almost superhuman physical condition, entering a hot tub naked, you are left with a patchy story line that plods through a two hour running time that seems to take longer to unwind than Ben-Hur. The script is also restricted by the fact that it has to adhere to Thorson's version of history, which naturally portrays him sympathetically and doesn't address criticisms that he may have been an opportunist who entered a relationship of convenience in order to obtain financial security. (Thorson was serving time in jail when this film premiered last year.)
We see details of Liberace's remarkable lifestyle but learn little about his background or ascension through show business. An unrecognizable Debbie Reynolds is cast as his adored mother but she is criminally underutilized in the role. Liberace occasionally discusses some aspects of his past but the emphasis is on his showmanship and the shallowness of his existence. His home is a monument to himself and his relationships are portrayed as based primarily on short-term sexual satisfaction. Thorson's background is also glossed over. When we first see him he is living with an older couple who were his de facto parents and working as an animal handler in the film industry. Suddenly, he's in a hot tub with Liberace and moving into his mansion, with scant attention paid to his emotional or financial state at the time. Because this is Thorson's vision of his relationship with Liberace, it is presented as a genuine love affair that had run out of steam, with him paying the price as Liberace's victim. The film does have a final sequence in which Liberace, laying his bed dying of AIDS, calls Thorson to stop by for one last goodbye. In the film version, the two men manage to put aside their differences and have an emotional last meeting. However, this scene illustrates the basic problem with the entire film: despite valiant performances by Douglas and Damon, there is no truly emotional core to this scene or the entire project. Sequences that are meant to enrage or touch the viewer do neither. The movie lumbers along from one fairly monotonous sequence to the other. As director,Soderbergh is efficient, but somewhat cold and distanced from his own project. There are some moments of genuine humor, such as when Thorson first sees Liberace sans toupee. However, there are other aspects of the film that don't work at all. For example, Thorson maintained that Liberace coerced him to undergo radical plastic surgery in order to obtain his mentor's physical characteristics. In a dramatic sequence, Thorson reluctantly goes under the scalpel which is wielded by a crackpot plastic surgeon (well-played by Rob Lowe). The only problem is that the "new" Thorson doesn't look much different than the "old" Thorson and in no way resembles Liberace. We all know that no one wants to risk messing up Damon's billion dollar face but this key aspect of the films falls short because the payoff shot of the radically transformed Thorson just isn't there.
The film captures the mood and look of the 1970s well enough as evidenced by the fact that not all of the garish fashions are confined to Liberace. (Yes, guys we really did dress this way in the '70s.) However, the sheer opulence of Liberace's stage appearances have a less-than-grand look to them that would seem to fall short of his actual shows. The one exception is a cliched ending sequence in which Thorson envisions the late entertainer ascending to Heaven. The scene seems directly inspired by the finale of Bob Fosse's All That Jazz, but done less effectively. The movie boasts an interesting supporting cast including Dan Aykroyd as Liberace's manager and Scott Bakula as one of Thorson's cronies, but- like Reynolds- these talents are not used to their full potential.
There was much I admired in Behind the Candelabra but in the aggregate, the film falls short of its potential and our expectations. The HBO DVD release of the film includes a short "making of" featurette that emphasizes how much care and effort went into recreating Liberace's home and the fact that many of his actual costumes were used in the production. It also addresses the Liberace's ludicrous insistence on maintaining that he was straight because of fears that admitting his obvious homosexuality would have ruined his career. The featurette is, in many ways, more interesting than the feature film it supports and one is left with the impression that, because Liberace did lead a remarkable and dramatic life, the best way to learn about it is probably through books or documentaries.
When Franco Nero rails at God, you can almost imagine
that God hears him. ("Is that Nero yelling again? What did I do
now?") While watching The Sack of
Rome (1993), an Italian production which features a good amount of Nero’s
skyward beefing, I tried to imagine an American actor playing such a part.I couldn't think of many. Even a pair of
scenery chewers like Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster would seem too urbane. I’d
give Japan’s Toshiro Mifune a shot at reaching God’s ear, but only if Akira Kurosawa
was directing him. Daniel Day Lewis could get God’s attention, but he’s not
American. The problem, of course, is that American actors haven't had many
chances to shout at the heavens. In American movies you can yell at your boss,
or your spouse, and you can shoot people in the head, but you don’t get many
opportunities to yell at God. This is true now more than ever, for contemporary
actors aren't asked to do much beyond work on their pecs and whiten their
teeth. Can you imagine Channing Tatum or Shia LaBeouf railing at God? That's
why Nero's performance in The Sack of
Rome is so impressive. Compared to Nero, American actors seem twitchy and
neurotic, as pampered as a bunch of models at a Victoria’s Secret shoot. Nero? I’m tempted to say it’s just the Italian
language that makes him seem so explosive, but even when Nero's not talking,
he's simmering. He’s an actor not given his due.
The film takes place in 1527 when mercenaries invaded
Rome and began a horrific course of looting and destruction. Nero plays Gabriele da Poppi, an artist who
feels above it all. Gabriele believes artists are immune during times of war.
He lives like a 16th century rock star, buffered from the outside world by a
kind of grand opulence. He saunters about his enormous estate looking as
glittery and well-fed as one of Rembrandt's noblemen. He lives with Gesuina, his lover and model (the
angelic Vittoria Belvedere, a young woman whose perspiration looks like it
would go well over flapjacks) and her little punk of a brother. Gabriele calls this
teen duo his "beasts." They bathe together and play games in what
seems like an indoor Eden. Suddenly, Gabriele’s
idyllic life is upended when the soldiers raid his mansion, destroy his
artwork, and kill Gesuina’s brother.
The head of the mercenaries holds Gabriele and Gesuina captive
in their own home, demanding Gabriele paint a portrait of him. Gabriele,
however, suffers a kind of psychotic meltdown after seeing his beloved city
turned to rubble. All he can paint are bizarre images of salamanders and
flowers. His sleep is troubled by nightmares. He wonders if debauched lives
like his own contributed to Rome's fall. He also feels guilty over not getting Gesuina to safety when he had the
chance. The worst of his fears, though, is that the sacking of Rome may mean
the end of previous concepts of art and beauty.
Sack of Rome is hard to follow at times. Still, there's
an undeniable passion in the film, boiling under every scene. Director Fabio
Bonzi is telling a story about the passing of an age, and he tells it with just
a handful of characters. When Gabriele sees Gesuina in bed with their captor, he
mourns the ending of an epoch, yet, he marvels that the hell they're in has
actually made his muse more beautiful. These scenes are wrenching because Nero
uses only his face and eyes to convey Gabriele's profound regret. Later, as
their abductor lay eviscerated, Gabriele doesn’t celebrate. His life has changed too quickly and
violently. The young girl he once playfully sniffed before her bath has become
hardened. Even the soldiers outside are
bracing for the future like the aging outlaws in The Wild Bunch, exchanging their swords in favor of primitive
firearms. Murder will become abstract, less personal. "The golden
age," Gabriele says, "is over."
Although TheSack of Rome boasts a couple of mildly
erotic scenes, the new DVD from One7Movies is a change from a company that
usually focuses on European erotica. For
those wondering about such things, the only bonus feature is a gallery of
stills, and the movie is presented in full screen rather than widescreen; it
looks scratchy in places, and seems older than a film from ‘93. Still, it's a
beautiful movie with impressive costumes and set decoration. (If you search for the film on the IMDB, use the Italian title, Zoloto.) I can’t vouch for the film’s historical accuracy, but it’s
worth a look, particularly for Nero's performance. When he lets it rip, few can
When The Waterdance was released in 1991 I couldn’t
wait to see it. It had all the earmarks of a film I would enjoy; Eric Stoltz in
a leading dramatic role, a solid reception at the Sundance Film Festival and a
script by Neal Jimenez, who wrote perhaps the best alternative teen film of the
1980’s, River’s Edge. I had to wait until the video release, but The Waterdance
didn’t disappoint. I instantly fell in love with this poignant character study
of three patients coping with sudden wheelchair confinement. It’s always felt
like a secret film only I’ve seen, so I’m thrilled that this compelling gem is now
available from Sony Pictures Choice Collection.
Jimenez, who co-directed along with Michael Steinberg,
drew on his own experience as a paraplegic to craft this story of a writer who finds
himself in a physical rehab ward following a debilitating accident. It’s not
difficult to believe that the script evolved from real-life events because it
unfolds like a great play, each character so fully conceived and with scenes full
of humor, pain, hostility and resiliency. Stoltz perfectly internalizes the
frustration of writer Joel Garcia who wakes to find himself in a halo brace on
a gurney headed toward is temporary new home in a rehab center. While his ward mates
Bloss (William Forsythe) and Victor (Tony Genaro) bicker about what to watch on
the lone television, Joel turns to observing his new cast of roommates to pass
the hours between visits from his married girlfriend Anna (Helen Hunt). He
can’t help but be drawn to the two loudest, former biker and born agitator
Bloss and his primary target Raymond (Wesley Snipes), a charmingly forward
patient who may be prone to exaggerating his exploits outside the facility. The
three men rely on each other to navigate their new circumstances as they
reassert their masculinity in their compromised bodies.
One of the finest achievements of the film is that is
never sentimentalizes any aspect of the characters’ recoveries. Instead
Jimenez, Steinberg and the excellent cast treat their characters with a great
deal of empathy and celebrate even the ugly and uncomfortable part of human
nature. The Waterdance should stand amongst Stoltz’ signature roles in The Mask
and Some Kind of Wonderful as one of his finest performances. He displays a
similar quiet melancholy here, his clear blue eyes conveying all Joel’s dismay
and resignation. Stoltz is also gifted with a light comic touch and he finds
every note of humor in the script as Joel looks for any kind of distraction. Raymond
provides a rare vulnerable character for Snipes, a man who takes this setback
as an opportunity to become the man he intended to be. Usually the most easy
going and affable guy on the ward, the scene where his family visits is a
heartbreaker. Mostly known for playing ruthless heavies, William Forsythe’s
work here is phenomenal. He takes another tough guy and adds so many unexpected
layers that Bloss feels like someone you just met; a real person. The film also
provides Helen Hunt with the first in a number of great turns as a woman who
struggles to give solace to her leading man. Here she’s smart and sensual, and
showcases that innate maturity that has marked all of her work as an adult. William
Allen Young and the always wonderful Elizabeth Pena are also terrific as
caregivers, treating the patients with directness and dignity.
I’m fairly certain I’ve only seen The Waterdance in pan
and scan so it nice to have it here in its original widescreen format. While
there’s nothing markedly original about the cinematography, the directors,
along with D.P. Mark Plummer create an intimacy between the characters that
allows the audience to fully engage in the patients’ struggles. In the
tradition of classic Hollywood movies, every aspect of the film from the score
to the editing works to service the story creating an illuminative experience
for the viewer. This DVD’s only extra is a theatrical trailer, but the film
itself is the real treasure here and I hope more people are able to discover
of my films have a sexual theme. I'm a sex maniac, so why not?" So says
director Piero Vivarelli, interviewed in the new Mondo Macabro DVD of his 1970
feature,The Snake God (Il Dio Serpente). You don't have to take his word for it.
Just a glance at the movie tells you he was a kinky son of a gun.
Paola (the beautiful Nadia Cassini) is a young
bride brought to the Caribbean by her wealthy, older husband. She enjoys the
luxury, but she's a little bored. Hubby, you see, keeps taking off for
business meetings, leaving Paola with nothing to do but laze around on the
beach and perspire. She befriends a young black woman named Stella (Beryl
Cunningham, Vivarelli's real life wife), a sexy school teacher who seems to
have a carefree lifestyle. Paola is envious after seeing Stella cavorting on
the beach with her hunky boyfriend, but Stella acts indifferent. "My
boyfriend is fun," Stella says, "But he's stupid." Stella
has more pressing interests involving local tribal customs, namely, those
involving a mysterious snake god. Quicker than you can sayI Walked With A Zombie, Stella introduces Paola to voodoo. At one point
in the film Paola attends an island ritual and ends up thrashing on the
ground with Stella as if they’re both possessed by evil spirits. Paola is
a clean-cut European girl, so this scary island atmosphere is all new and
exotic to her. By the film's end, Paola has given herself to Djamballa, the
snake god. Isn't that always the way?
Vivarelli was a genre bouncer, moving easily from
rock & roll musicals, to comic book adventures. He earned his bones writing
screenplays for directors like Lucio Fulci and Sergio Corbucci, and even after
directing several of his own features, Vivarelli was often called upon to punch
up someone else's screenplay. That's why you'll see his name on everything from
spaghetti westerns to soft-core porn. He had an interest in songwriting,
too, often contributing musical ideas to his films. Hence, Vivarelli's features
were usually highlighted by vibrant scores, chockfull of brass and fuzz
guitars. EvenThe Snake God, which is heavy on mind-numbing tribal beats,
features a nice electric bass line that could've been lifted from an old
Vivarelli, who died in 2010, was a rebellious soul
who often chided the movie business for its hypocrisy. In the DVD's
"about the film" section there's a lot of verbiage about how he was a
communist, and a pot smoker, and howThe Snake God was his statement about colonization.
Gee, I thought the film's message was something about not leaving your younger
wife alone, because there's usually a snake god out there waiting to show her a
good time. To paraphrase something Vivarelli said during the interview,
once you've been in the sheets with a snake god, you don't go back to mortal
The Snake God isn't Vivarelli's best work. Many of
the ritualistic scenes go on far too long in an effort to pad out a
thin story, and despite all of Vivarelli's close-ups of bare asses and
breasts, there's not much of an erotic charge here. The racial theme is also a
bit heavy handed, with the black characters depicted as earthy and
raw, while the white folks are shown as naïve and uptight (a theme
familiar to anyone who has enjoyed the films of Whoopie Goldberg). Also, there
was a period of time in cinema history when screen couples gazed into each
other's eyes while eating citrus fruit, as if fruit juice dripping down
someone's chin really jacked up the pheromones. If interracial fruit sucking is
your bag, there's a fair amount of it here.
The DVD is quite beautiful, though, courtesy of a
new anamorphic transfer. The Caribbean looks breathtaking, and the sunlight
bouncing off the ocean is nearly blinding. Kudos to Mondo Macabro for displaying
Benito Frattari's cinematography in such sharp detail, for Frattari's
camera work is the best part of a slow, dullish film. Do you like snake movies?
Go findCobra Woman with Maria Montez and Sabu. You'll be
(The Snake God is 95 minutes long, and presented in widescreen (2.35:1/16:9). The DVD includes a handful of special features, such as the interview with Vivarelli, extensive production notes, newly created English subtitles, a trailer, and previews of other Mondo Macabro titles.)
The Shadowplay niche market DVD label has released the obscure British film noir crime thriller Room 43. The 1958 B&W film was directed by Alvin Rakoff and features some intriguing star turns. The real star of the film is Odile Versois, a French actress who is largely unknown in English language films. She plays Marie Louise, a young Parisian waitress who is framed for a petty crime in a human trafficking scheme. Faced with trial and jail, she accepts the help of a British benefactor, Aggie (Brenda de Banzie), a middle aged tourist who invites her to immigrate to London to work as her personal assistant. Once in London, she is housed with many other comely young women in a building run by Aggie. She is also introduced to Nick (Herbert Lom), an assertive but seemingly kindly businessman who pretends to have her best interests at heart. In reality, Nick runs a loan agency in London that is a front for an organized crime ring of which Nick is the ring leader. They manipulate innocent victims such as Johnny into taking out loans then use their clout to get them to engage in illicit activities. Nick also owns the house that Aggie runs and it is actually a bordello staffed by young women who find it impossible to escape his wrath. Nick is immediately smitten by Marie Louise because of her beauty, innocence and naivety (she doesn't realize that the "boarding house" she lives in is a house of ill repute.) Nick devises a scheme to convince the young woman that her status as an immigrant will lead to her being returned to France to face criminal charges unless she participates in a quickie marriage scam designed to get her a green card. She reluctantly agrees and Nick enlists Johnny McVey (Eddie Constantine), a luckless Canadian cab driver who is indebted to Nick to marry her. McVey does so out of a sense of obligation. Nick had loaned him the funds to purchase his own taxi cab but doesn't realize he was also behind the destruction of the vehicle as part of a plot to ensure the loan could not easily be paid off. As soon as Johnny lays eyes on his bride-to-be on their wedding day, he is also smitten by her. Events move quickly from there. The couple is supposed to have the marriage annulled almost immediately but Johnny learns that he has been a pawn in Nick's scam and that Marie Louise is now being held captive in the bordello until she agrees to serve as a high end prostitute. Her refusal finds her placed on the streets where Nick intends to break her spirit by forcing her to work as a common hooker. By this point Johnny is determined to come to his wife's rescue and enlists a virtual army of fellow cabbies in his attempt to save her. The film climaxes in a major brawl at the bordello with Johnny going mano-a-mano against Nick atop the flaming building.
Room 43 is typical of the low-budget British cinematic fare of the 1950s in that it proves be an engrossing film populated by an interesting cast. Although the largely unknown Odile Versois was the female lead, the advertising campaign played up the supporting appearance by Diana Dors, who gives a good performance as another young woman who, along with her sister, has been lured into prostitution by Nick. The ads depict Dors clad in a sensual bustier but this blink-and-you-miss-it sequence was obviously included simply to justify the image on the movie poster. Constantine plays the role of tough guy with a heart of gold in the style of old time cinematic heroes and he suits the requirements of the role adequately enough. Brenda de Banzie is quite good as Nick's one-time paramour and now long-suffering partner in crime who runs the bordello but the film's best performance comes from the always-reliable Herbert Lom, seen here at his best as an urbane villain who is especially sensitive about anyone reminding him of his boyhood roots as an East Ender. He drips with charm and sophistication even as he schemes to heartlessly exploit everyone around him. Noted British character actor Robert Brown (James Bond's future "M") also appears a heroic cabby and gets to indulge in some rough-and-tumble, a far cry from the roles he usually played. Director Alvin Rakoff makes the most of his limited budget by shooting in and around the seedier sections of London and never overplays the melodramatic aspects of the story. The climactic fight at the bordello is exciting and well-directed.
The Shadowplay DVD is problematic. We have great sympathy for niche market video labels with limited capital, especially those that have to rely on the "take what you can get" nature of releasing public domain titles. However, the transfer of Room 43 barely passes muster. It seems to have been struck from a VHS master, and one that was several generations down as evidenced by the fact that there is actually some double imaging around the actors in certain sequences. Still, had they not released this interesting title I would have been immune to its merits as a worthy British film noir entry.
Available through many on-line retail sites.
Update: As usual, my co-publisher Dave Worrall has to upstage me by providing certain key facts I had overlooked in my review! He reports: " Room 43 has many interesting facts. Made and released in the UK in 1958 as Passport to Shame, there were two "unknowns" (and uncredited) in it - Michael Caine and Jackie Collins. The camera operator was Nic Roeg."
Since the beginning of the month, Warner Archive Instant has added over 100 feature films to our new streaming service, many in 1080p HD for the first time anywhere! Classic Comedy like Bachelor Mother (1939) with Ginger Rogers and The Wheeler Dealers (1963) with James Garner. Monster Movies like Son of Kong (1933) and Mighty Joe Young (1949). Musicals like Gold Diggers of 1937 (1936) and Les Girls (1957) with Gene Kelly. End of the World Sci-Fi like The Omega Man (1971) with Charlton Heston and The World, The Flesh and the Devil (1959) with Harry Belafonte. So much new amazing stuff available to stream on your iPad, Roku or PC/Mac. Try it FREE for 2 weeks.
THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED FROM OUR ORIGINAL POSTING OF JANUARY 6. THE BLU-RAY PACKAGING ART HAS BEEN ADDED AND THE TITLE IS NOW AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER FROM AMAZON.
Good news for fans of William Friedkin's underrated 1977 classic Sorcerer: after years of false starts, the remastered film will now be available on Blu-ray through Warner Home Video. Check out the press release we've just received from them:
Burbank, Calif., January 6, 2014 –William Friedkin’s Sorcerer, the cult suspense thriller
that has been largely overlooked since its 1977 release, has now been acquired
and fully restored by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment and will make its Blu-ray™
debut on April 22, 2014. The release, also available on DVD, will be packaged
as a 40-page Blu-ray book filled with beautiful images from the film and
excerpts from the book, “The Friedkin Connection: A Memoir.”
Sorcerer is derived from the same Georges Arnaud novel that inspired
Henri-Georges Clouzot's 1953 French classic, The Wages of Fear. The film, made following the successes of
Friedkin’s The FrenchConnection and The Exorcist, tells the story of four men who, for various reasons,
cannot return to their own countries and end up in a dismal South American town
where an American oil company is seeking courageous drivers willing to haul
nitroglycerin through 200 miles of treacherous terrain. The four displaced men
have nothing to lose so they agree for a small payment of cash.
Roy Scheider (Jaws),Bruno
Cremer (Under the Sun), Francisco Rabal (Dagon) and Amidou (Ronin) star in Sorcerer which Friedkin directed
from a Walon Green (The Wild Bunch) screenplay. The haunting music was the
first credit for Tangerine Dream, the German electronic experimental band who
went on to provide many successful scores for such films as “Risky Business,”
“VisionQuest” and “Catch Me if You Can.”
Over the years, awareness of the film has been steadily building as a
result of Friedkin fan requests and newly-found praise from critics.
Then last year, the director was asked to introduce Sorcerer for its
screeningatthe Venice 70th International Film Festival where
he was presented with the Golden Lion Award for Lifetime Achievement.
In a recent L.A. Times interview,
prior to the Venice Film Festival, Friedkin offered some theories as to why the
film may have failed to achieve commercial success when it was initially released:
"The only known actor, who was not a major star, was Roy Scheider…and
people didn't really understand the significance of the title [the name of one
of the trucks] -- they thought it was a film similar to 'The Exorcist.’ [But
most importantly], the film came out just after 'Star Wars,' a movie that
became the template for the future of American film, which it basically still
“I have a great fondness for Sorcerer, more than any
other film I’ve made.. Sorcerer is the one I hope to be
remembered for and the one film that came closest to my vision.”
The film has been remastered by Warner Bros., under Friedkin’s supervision
along with colorist Bryan McMahan who has worked with the director since 1994. "The
new restoration makes the film appear as if it was just made. None of the
essentials — the clothes, the hair — are dated in any way. It looks the way it
looked to me when I looked through the lens of the camera," said Friedkin.
The restoration began with a 4K film resolution scan of the
original 35mm camera negative.
Ned Price, Chief Preservation Officer of Warner Bros.
Technical Operations, who oversees restoration projects for the studio, said,
“I was amazed at the brilliance of the original photography. Up to this point,
I had only seen poor quality 35mm theatrical prints made from inferior
subtitled dupe negatives. Working from the 4K scan allowed us to free up all
the information contained in the original negatives.”
The soundtrack was restored from the original 35mm 4-track
stereo masters which were in remarkably good condition and contained full dynamic
The new restoration allows audiences to appreciate the true
visual and aural impact of this film.
them: Peter Sobczynski,,eFilmCritic.Com; Brent Lang,,The
Wrap; Nat Segaloff, Harvard Film Archive..
Sony has released director Richard Brooks' 1965 screen adaptation of Joseph Conrad's Lord Jim as a burn-to-order DVD title. The novel, written in 1899, centers on Jim, an idealistic young man who fulfills his dream of being a highly regarded officer on a commercial cargo vessel in southeast Asia. All is going well for him under the guidance of his mentor, ship's captain Marlowe. However, when an injury causes Jim to convalesce for an extended period, he ends up on a rickety freighter under the command of an unscrupulous captain who is transporting hundreds of Muslim pilgrims. When the ship founders, the captain and his cowardly crew abandon ship, leaving the pilgrims to face what appears to be certain death. To his own astonishment, Jim spontaneously opts to join them in order to save his own life. When the ragged survivors finally make port, they are shocked to find that the ship was rescued- and Jim and his fellow crew members are now tarnished as cowards. The tale delves into Jim's psychological woes caused by an omnipresent sense of guilt. In the film version, Jim (played by Peter O'Toole) attempts to regain some honor by willingly testifying at a legal hearing that he did indeed act in a cowardly fashion. This only brings him scorn from his fellow British mariners who accuse him of tarring them all with the scandal. Morose and plagued by guilt, Jim works at menial jobs on the docks, trying to fade into obscurity but his notoriety follows him everywhere. Ultimately, he meets Stein (Paul Lukas), an aging intellectual who hires Jim for a dangerous mission to secretly transport arms and ammunition to a remote jungle village where the people have fallen under the dictatorial rule of a local warlord known as The General (Eli Wallach). Stein hopes that the delivery of these weapons will inspire the long-suffering people to revolt against their oppressor. Jim, feeling his life is meaningless, readily accepts the mission, even though it is considered near-suicidal. Against all odds, he manages to get the weapons into the hands of the villagers. He is proclaimed a local hero for doing so and in short order he finds a new acceptance among these people who know nothing of his shameful past. He forms a romantic bond with a local girl (Daliah Lavi) and begins to train the local men as armed combatants. They engage the General and his forces in an all out assault from which they emerge triumphant. Jim is suddenly thrust into the role of local hero and is proclaimed "Lord" by the grateful villagers. A period of peace and joy comes to the area- until intruders from the outside world arrive who seek to take religious treasures from the temple by force of arms. Suddenly Jim is once again forced to summon his courage to save the local people from further exploitation.
Lord Jim was an expensive production back in the day and was heavily promoted as an equally prestigious follow-up to Peter O'Toole's back-to-back triumphs in Lawrence of Arabia and Becket. The project seemed to be a sure-fire proposition, given all the talent involved and the fact that Richard Brooks was a highly acclaimed director. Yet, for all the build-up, the production proved to be a flop with critics and a commercial dud. What went wrong? Viewing the film today, Brooks' own screenplay is rather schizophrenic and never provides a clear understanding of Jim. At the beginning of the movie he's an innocent Walter Mitty type (Brooks even throws in groan-inducing fantasy bubbles that appear in Jim's mind depicting him engaging in acts of derring do.) Then Jim becomes a relentless, morose symbol of self-pity before transforming himself overnight into a virtual super hero. (It is never explained how this simple ship's first officer is able to spontaneously concoct military strategies and invent innovative weaponry as though he were a 19th century version of 007's "Q"). O'Toole carries the gentle, angelic hero stuff to extremes and the New York Times' Bosley Crowther commented at the time that he looks as though he is perpetually about to burst into tears. Brooks also indulges in heavy-handed religious symbolism with Jim carrying out self-sacrifices in order to save the innocents around him. As with most films of this era, local native populations, though treated sympathetically, come across as the white man's burden. Jim's love interest, played by Daliah Lavi, looks like she stepped out of a Beverly Hills spa and in one absurd sequence is seeing ironing what appear to be curtains as he discusses committing suicide! (Keep in mind this is taking place in a remote jungle village in the 19th century so one wonders how big a priority ironing might have been.) There is also no indication that the virginal Jim ever compromises his Christ-like persona by consummating his relationship with the girl (who is never named.) That may be noble for Jim, but it sure as hell makes their on-screen relationship a bore. The battle scenes are exciting and well-staged and Freddie Young's 70mm cinematography is as gorgeous as you would expect, though it is somewhat diluted by the fact that Brooks films large sections of the film within the obvious confines of studio sets. Similarly, the pivotal scenes of a ship in a storm-tossed sea are very obviously shot with miniatures. There is an excellent supporting cast with Lukas giving a fine performance as Jim's father figure, James Mason as an aristocratic cutthroat who leads an expedition of thieves into the village, Curt Jurgens, especially good as a cowardly opportunist businessman and Akim Tamiroff as, well, a typical Akim Tamiroff character (i.e. an amusing low-life). If you can get past the fact that Eli Wallach, a Jewish guy from Brooklyn, plays the only Asian warlord with a hairy chest, you can enjoy his wry performance, though the character is poorly defined. Jack Hawkins makes brief appearances as Captain Marlowe and provides narration for the early scenes, though this device is promptly dropped by Brooks and never reappears.
The film is a quasi-epic that can't be called even a quasi-classic. It clocks in at 254 minutes, not exceptionally long if a film is engrossing enough, but at times the pace of Brooks' direction makes the story rather taxing to stick with. Nevertheless, Lord Jim looks better today than it did at the time of its initial release perhaps because it features so many talented artists who are no longer with us.
City was like no other TV series before or since –
Michel Moriarty, star of Law and Order,
once told this reviewer.
Inspired by Jules Dassin's
1948 film of the same name, Naked City centers on the detectives of the
NYPD’s 65th Precinct, but the criminals and New York City itself often played
as prominent a role in the dramas as the series regulars. Like the film it was based
on, Naked City (1958- 1963) was shot
almost entirely on location. The first season ran as a half-hour show under the
title The Naked City, starring James Franciscus and John McIntire
playing, respectively, Detective Jimmy Halloran and Lieutenant Dan Muldoon—the
same roles essayed by Don Taylor and Barry Fitzgerald in the film.
Naked City also starred Harry Bellaver as Det. Frank Arcaro.
When the series was expanded to an hour, the producers brought in handsome Paul
Burke as Det. Adam Flint and gruff Horace McMahon as Lt. Mike Parker to replace
Franciscus and McIntyre (with jovial Bellaver remaining in the cast). That's
when the classic episodes of Naked City
were produced... with a host of famous guest stars, ranging from silent movie
actors like Conrad Nagel to newcomers Martin Sheen, Peter Fonda and Christopher
Naked City is so good and
so unlike any other American crime drama or police procedural it's hard to
believe it was produced in the United States, because the series definitely has
a European look and sensibility. It's sort of operatic neorealism – Vittorio De
Sica let loose with a camera in NYC. Not unlike De Sica's Bicycle Thieves and Umberto
D., Naked City reflects a very
existentialist and humanistic philosophy that occasionally moves the viewer to
tears. The series regulars often become supporting players in the weekly
dramas. The writing by Stirling Silliphant and others makes the more celebrated
Paddy Chayevsky sound like an overbearing pontificator.
Silliphant really humanizes his characters.... whether cops, criminals or
ordinary New Yorkers.
Sadly, the image quality of Naked City: The Complete Series varies considerably. Several of the
earlier episodes are in bad shape – dark and speckled. Framed in 1.33:1, most of the transfers look pretty
good. Generally, image and sound quality are more than acceptable, although
dialogue isn't always clear.
But this box set is the only way to see the entire landmark television series –
unfamiliar to contemporary audiences because the series rarely went into
syndication after its ABC run.
Watching 138 episodes of Naked City on 29 DVDs is quite a time commitment, but well worth
the effort. The show (filmed in glorious black and white) is interesting from a
historical standpoint: We see the magnificent old Penn Station (tragically demolished
in 1963) and the Singer Building (the 47-story office tower – built in 1908 and
torn down in 1968). In the early sixties, the New York City skyline was never
more beautiful and balanced, before the intrusion of such massive
structures as One World Trade Center and the Bank of America Tower. The
Columbus Circle of the late fifties is almost unrecognizable, with the monument
at the centre the only constant. We also see pre-gentrified Manhattan neighborhoods
that looked quite grungy back in the day, especially in the winter.
City attracted top-flight guest stars, including Luther
Adler, Eddie Albert, Edward Asner, Martin Balsam, Barbara Barrie, Richard
Basehart, Diahann Carroll, Lee J. Cobb, James Coburn, Richard Conte, Hume
Cronyn, Robert Culp, Sandy Dennis, Bruce Dern, Bradford Dillman, Keir Dullea, Dan
Duryea, Robert Duvall, Peter Falk, Nina Foch, Anthony Franciosa, Gene Hackman,
Dustin Hoffman, Dennis Hopper, Kim Hunter, David Janssen, Jack Klugman, Shirley Knight, Diane Ladd, Piper Laurie, Joanne Linville, Robert Loggia, Jack Lord, Walter
Matthau, Myron McCormick, Roddy McDowall, Burgess Meredith, Sylvia Miles, Vic
Morrow, Robert Morse, Lois Nettleton, Leslie
Nielsen, Carroll O'Connor, Susan Oliver, Nehemiah Persoff, Suzanne
Pleshette, Claude Rains, Robert Redford, Ruth Roman, Mickey Rooney, Carol
Rossen, Telly Savalas, George C. Scott, George
Segal, William Shatner, Sylvia Sidney, Maureen Stapleton,
Karen Steele, Akim Tamiroff, Rip Torn, Jon Voight, Eli Wallach, David Wayne,
Tuesday Weld, Keenan Wynn and Dick York. George Maharis guest stars in a
first-season episode that served as a pilot for Route 66. (Naked City and
Route 66 were created and produced by Stirling Silliphant and Herbert B.
only extra features are 12 minutes of commercials
from 50+ years ago, including one in which Peter Lorre promotes a flexible
Brutalization is just the latest example of a film being re-titled and packaged for DVD in order to disingenuously imply that it is a sexploitation title. In fact, the original title of the movie is Because of the Cats, an admittedly esoteric creation that may bare relevance to the plot but undoubtedly didn't have movie fans lining up at boxoffices around the world. The 1973 Dutch crime thriller has been released on DVD by the niche market company One7Movies. The film does indeed begin with a shocking sequence of sexual abuse as a middle-aged couple return to their Amsterdam apartment only to find it is being robbed by a gang of young men in stocking masks. They humiliate the couple by stripping and gang raping the woman while making her helpless husband observe the degrading act. Police Inspector van der Valk (British actor Bryan Marshall) is assigned to the case and sent to the affluent town of Bloemendaal where clues indicate the young men reside. It turns out the gang is also behind a series of local robberies in which homes are routinely trashed and family heirlooms maliciously destroyed. In keeping with the era, van der Valk is no ordinary cop: he's a maverick. Upon arriving in town, he seduces Feodora (gorgeous Alexandra Stewart), a local prostitute. He's rather obnoxious with local police colleagues and doesn't think twice about joining "persons of interest" in a few drinks while he interviews them about the case. The clues lead to a group of well-heeled young men in their late teens and early twenties who call themselves The Ravens. This is no street gang, however, but rather a cult-like organization that prides itself on a code of secrecy and military-like discipline. van der Valk observes that virtually all of the suspects have several things in common: they are from affluent families and have been spoiled throughout their lives by indulgent parents who never spent any "quality time" with them. Cracking the gang becomes even more important when one of their members turns up dead in what appears to be a scuba diving accident. van der Valk suspects murder by other gang members who may have believed the young man was about to talk to authorities. The detective also investigates a similar cult of young women known as The Cats who interact with The Ravens and occasionally engage in sex orgies with their members.
The film, which is largely unknown in the United States, was originally rated X but was cut to adhere to an R rating. Few people ever heard of it, let alone saw it. Presumably the DVD release is the unrated European cut. The rape scene is certainly shocking with frontal nudity but it's not as overtly brutal as it might have been. There are other instances of full nudity peppered throughout the film but most of the other sequences are presented somewhat tastefully. As a mystery, the film is surprisingly effective. Director Fons Rademakers has a crude but compelling way of presenting the story in an engrossing way, even if some of the plot devices and characters become occasionally confusing. He also makes good use of the Dutch locations and although the film features shocking acts of violence, they are never overly-exploited. As a leading man Bryan Marshall gives a strong performance. He's hip, hunky and charismatic...and one wonders why he never progressed beyond the supporting actor stage. (James Bond fans will recognize him as one of the British submarine commanders from The Spy Who Loved Me.) Alexandra Stewart adds the requisite sex appeal and there are some other familiar faces to be found including another Bond movie veteran, George Baker (On Her Majesty's Secret Service) and future Emmanuelle sex siren Sylvia Kristel as a teenage girl gang member. The performances by all of the supporting players are extremely good. The film moves to a satisfying conclusion as the mystery to the young man's death is tied to an unexpected and rather exotic cause.
The DVD presentation is good, considering source material for a film such as this can be a "take what you can get" scenario. The DVD also includes an original British trailer with crudely inserted English language titles. In all, an impressive and interesting film. Recommended.
The Warner Archive has reissued Paramount's DVD release of Waterhole #3, a 1967 Western comedy that presents James Coburn in top form as a charismatic drifter, gambler and con-man who is goaded into a gunfight with a local crook. Coburn shoots the man dead by using an underhanded tactic then robs him, only to discover a tantalizing map that shows where a trove of stolen U.S. military gold had been secreted by the man and his partners. Coburn immediately begins to follow the map on an arduous trek across the desert. He is pursued by a local sheriff (Carroll O'Connor) who is trying to arrest him for the murder of the man victimized in the duel. When the two men meet up, it becomes a cat and mouse game with each alternately getting the drop on the other. They discover the hidden gold together and thereby initiate various plots to steal it for themselves. The film, directed by William Graham, is rather amusing throughout most of its running time thanks to the inspired performances of Coburn, O'Connor and some good supporting actors such as Bruce Dern, Claude Akins, Timothy Carey, Joan Blondell and James Whitmore. Margaret Blye makes a good impression as O'Connor's love-starved teen-aged daughter who is smitten by Coburn even though he literally rapes her. The film runs out of steam in the latter part of the story when the dead crook's partners and the U.S. cavalry all converge on Coburn and O'Connor in an attempt to retrieve the stolen gold. Suddenly the film disintegrates into a pioneer version of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World with everyone running amok in an attempt to get the treasure.The only thing missing is a "Big W". Folk singer Roger Miller provides a running narrative in the form of a ballad but the gimmick wears thin pretty quickly, largely because the same few notes are sung repeatedly. Nevertheless, the movie is a pleasant enough time-killer thanks largely to Coburn's super-cool persona. There are no bonus extras.
On the Bowery is a 2012 release from Milestone that is remarkable on a number of levels. I will confess that I was unfamiliar with this landmark 1956 film that was shot as a quasi-documentary exploring the deplorable living conditions of down-and-out men on New York's Bowery. This section of Manhattan today is replete with boutique shops and cafes but for decades it was infamous for being a place where transients and hobos (to use a quaint phrase) would gather to commiserate with each other about the bad breaks they had suffered in life. Seedy bars dotted the streets and if you grew up in New York during this era, you knew that a walk through the Bowery section would be tantamount to tempting fate when it came to your personal safety. Filmmaker Lionel Rogosin was a liberal, socially conscious man who devoted himself to documenting societal problems. On The Bowery is said to be his most accomplished project, shedding light on the trials and tribulations of an entire subculture of downtrodden people who existed only blocks from where New York's most elite residents lived. The film utilized actual Bowery inhabitants, which explains the authenticity of the performances. Rogosin had initially tried to film the project as a traditional documentary but decided it needed a story line to keep viewers engaged. A loose plot was constructed about one desperate man in search of work who is deceived by one of his best friends. Much of the dialogue was improvised but the bare-bones plot was adhered to. The result was an astonishingly moving film that caused quite a sensation in art house circles when it was released. Sadly, it would take decades for the Bowery to be reborn, which didn't do much for the wretched souls who had to fight for daily existence there during the period in which this movie was made. The Blu-ray release from Milestone is packed with bonus extras including another Rogosin feature film, Good Times, Wonderful Times. Once again, this was a scripted movie shot in the style of a documentary. Filmed in 1964, the project is Rogosin's statement against war. It combines real footage of WWII atrocities with scenes from a London cocktail party attended by elitist snobs. Unfortunately, the film plays as pretentiously as the people it criticizes. The set also includes the 1957 documentary Out, made by Rogosin for the United Nations. It effectively chronicles the immigration of immigrants from Hungary to Austria in the aftermath of the Hungarian revolution of 1956. There is an impressive wealth of bonus extras on the 2 disc set which include a walking tour of the present day Bowery by Rogosin's son Michael, who also presents his own documentary about the making of On the Bowery. There is an introduction by Martin Scorsese, who is a great admirer of the film, and some vintage documentaries about life on Bowery. In all, a highly impressive release of passion-driven films by a true master of independent movie making.
Vic is an extraordinary short film that runs 30 minutes but packs an emotional wallop. The movie is steeped in tragedy, from its subject matter to the story behind its production. The movie stars veteran character actor Clu Gulager in a career-topping performance as a once-popular leading man who has now been relegated to eeking out an existence in his modest L.A. home. Living alone and largely forgotten by his peers and friends, Vic tries to cheerfully get through each day, bolstered by the companionship of his loyal dog. His home is a modest shrine to his former achievements. The walls boast faded newspaper articles about him from bygone eras and there are tattered 8x10 stills of hit movies from happier times. Vic is feeling the pain of his twilight years. He still cuts a handsome figure and can joke and flirt with the ladies but he is relegated to having to use rolls of pennies to pay for necessities in local stores. In one poignant scene, he flirts with a charismatic cashier who is his own age (played in by Gulager's real-life wife Miriam Byrd-Nethery). When he returns to the store the following day to ask her on a date, he is told she was fired because she couldn't keep up with the work load. Vic's world is on the verge of total collapse when potential salvation arrives in the form of a phone call from out of the blue. An influential young director is interested in hiring him for a key supporting role in a major dramatic film. The news sends Vic into elation, then panic when he learns he has to do a reading for the part. This will require him to sit in front of the director and other key crew members and convince them that he is the man for the job. Nevertheless, Vic studies the script diligently, determined to knock 'em dead and revive his dormant career. Then he learns that his beloved dog has been stolen by a local miscreant who he refused to give money to. With his appointment for the reading looming, Vic becomes completely distraught as he searches frantically for his dog. He then makes a frantic drive to the production office to see if he can salvage this one last chance to restore his dignity. The highlight of the movie is Vic's reading of the script for the director and producers. He has dyed his hair jet black, but its a botched job and makes him look foolish. Nevertheless, he is treated reverently by those present and, in an inside joke, he is complimented on his performance in McQ, the John Wayne detective flick in which Gulager co-starred in real life. The film offers some tantalizing, brief appearances by such fine veteran actors as John Phillip Law, Carol Lynley, Richard Herd, Gregory Sierra, Robert Lyons and Peter Mark Richman. You fervently wish the movie was longer in order to capitalize on this extraordinary gathering of talented people. When it's time for Vic to do his reading, director Stallone has ratcheted up the suspense to an almost unbearable level and Gulager pulls out all the stops in a performance that becomes increasingly brilliant.
Vic is based on a story by Sage Stallone, the son of Sylvester Stallone, who won an award as Best New Filmmaker at the Boston Film Festival. Tragically, he died in 2012 of heart problems at age 36. The movie was a family affair for Clu Gulager, with his son John serving as cinematographer and editor (along with Bob Murawski, who would go on to win an Oscar for his editing of The Hurt Locker). Another son, Tom Gulager, gives a fine performance as the young director who holds the key to the old actor's career resurrection. The movie also gave Gulager the opportunity to play a scene with his wife Miriam, who would pass away shortly thereafter. Knowing this adds even more poignancy to the sequence. Stallone shows that he had great potential as a filmmaker but perhaps his greatest legacy is the fact that he co-founded Grindhouse Releasing with Bob Murawski, a company that built a loyal following by restoring and releasing niche market gems. Appropriately, Vic has been released on DVD as a special edition by Grindhouse. The DVD includes a remarkably intimate and revealing interview with Clu Gulager, whose modesty is refreshing and admirable. He says he never became a major star but "was not irrelevant". Indeed, Gulager made one of the most indelible screen villains of all time in Don Siegel's 1964 version of The Killers, playing a psychotic hit man opposite Lee Marvin. Gulager speaks lovingly of his family and his joy at having this fine starring role this late in his career. When asked what the next stop is for him, he says bluntly "the grave". Fortunately, he looks far too fit for that to be imminent and one hopes he does get some good film roles in the future.
The commercial prospects for Vic were always limited due to the fact that it is a short film. The mind reels at the potential the story might have had if proper funding could have been found to make this into a feature length movie. Gulager, who is simply superb throughout, might well have scored an Oscar nomination.
The DVD also includes a montage of still photos from Gulager's career. It's an excellent presentation of an admirable film by a talented director who was denied his chance to fulfill his potential.
The Shadowplay DVD label has released the 1984 film Hookers on Davie Street (aka Hookers on Davie). Despite the sensational title, this is not a sexploitation film. In fact, it's a sobering look at particularly sordid area of Vancouver during a period when prostitutes trawled for customers apparently without any interference from local authorities. The documentary was directed by two female filmmakers, Janis Cole and Holly Dale and won an award at the Chicago International Film Festival. It was also nominated for the Canadian version of the Oscar, the Genie Award, in the category of Best Documentary. The film traces the nightly ordeals of a diverse group of prostitutes that includes young women and transvestites, each of whom suffers the indignity of standing on a street corner and soliciting drivers to pay them for sex in their cars or back in a squalid motel room. The filmmakers obviously had gained the trust of their subjects and were allowed extraordinary access to these wayward souls who share their stories on camera. Virtually all of them came from broken homes, foster homes or juvenile centers and most started their careers as prostitutes very early in life, some before they were teenagers. Most seem to regret having to do this for a living but feel that they have no other choice. The hookers in question pride themselves on working in a "pimp-free" zone where they band together to keep out those who would exploit them even further. Aware of the risks they take every night by getting into cars with strange men, the group does what it can to rescue any of their peers from particularly dangerous situations. Nevertheless, some of the women describe frightening encounters with men who beat them and, in some cases, threaten their lives. If there is a central figure in the film it is Mark, a transvestite who goes under the name of "Michelle". He is half-way through a transgender operation and struts his stuff on the pavement wearing a garish dress with an ample bust line constantly on display. He shamelessly discusses how he got into sordid sex after being abused by an older man and seems unconcerned about the way he now makes a living. A visit from his distraught mother is especially moving when she describes on camera how she still loves her son despite the wreck he has made of his life. The film shows the prostitutes gathering for nightly "rest breaks" in a hotel bar where they joke and laugh the way any other co-workers might be expected to. However, there is an underlying tragic circumstance behind each of their stories. The movie also doesn't shy away from showing some of the "johns" who patronize the hookers. One has to wonder if they aren't as pathetic in their own way as the prostitutes are. After all, the hookers are victims of circumstance while the johns are generally married, relatively affluent men who feel obliged to pay for their thrills. The film culminates in coverage of a protest march by local prostitutes to lobby for legalization of their trade. (Canadian laws concerning prostitution have been criticized for being vague. Prostitution is technically legal but can be prosecuted under certain circumstances if deemed to be a danger to the public.)
Hookers on Davie Street is the kind of bold film making that not only impresses but informs the viewer. In this case, it humanizes a sub-culture of people and makes their plight a sympathetic one.
The DVD transfer is grainy but, given the technology of the era when the movie was shot, the original master probably was as well. There are no extras.
The Vinegar Syndrome DVD label is making a niche for itself through the release of retro erotica from the 1970s. The latest release is a "Peekarama Big 2 Unit Show" double feature. First up is Abduction of an American Playgirl, a 1975 hardcore flick shot largely in a rural area. Darby Lloyd Rains, one of the more popular "names" among porn actresses of the era, stars as a woman who is randomly abducted by two simpletons who want to satiate their sexual desires. She conveniently faints when they approach her and she remains in a virtual coma while they bring her to a remote house and remove all of her clothes. However, she quickly sizes up their combined intelligence is about the same as their shirt collar sizes and turns the tables. If you can accept the premise of forcible abduction as a premise for comedy, you might be able to relish the goofball satirical aspects of the film. It turns out that the kidnapper's plans to retrieve a ransom fall apart when her own father shows no desire to have his daughter returned. They then discover that Rains is a nymphomaniac with an insatiable sexual desire. By the end of the first day she has so exhausted both men that they have to call in a friend to help with the stress of keeping up with her demands. Eventually her younger sister shows up with some greatly reduced ransom money and both sisters outwit the villains by stealing their car. Having escaped sexual abuse, they decide to go to motel and pick up some new strange guys. (Hey, this was '70s porn, after all). Because of the abundance of alleged comedic situations, the film is about as erotic as a dip in a pool of ice. However, the transfer of this low-budget sleezefest is actually rather impressive. It also includes a trailer (yes, they made trailers for porn flicks) that identifies the movie under the title of Abduction of an American Plowgirl.
The second feature, Winter Heat, was shot in 1976 and is more ambitious than the Playgirl movie in that it at least attempts to present a somewhat believable story. Male porn icon Jamie Gillis leads a gang of thugs (including his own wife) to a remote snowbound cabin where they attempt to find food and shelter. Since the cabin is conveniently inhabited by three comely young women, their list of demands gets somewhat more creative. There is a genuinely disturbing element to this film, at least initially, with Gillis giving a fairly convincing and scary performance as the sex-crazed leader of the pack. The film contains numerous hardcore sexual scenarios that are played largely without humor. It's a distasteful premise for our more enlightened times and the film is squarely geared toward male interests with the female victims ultimately getting into the action. The transfer is fairly grainy in the beginning but quality improves as the film progresses.
Vinegar Syndrome releases are definitely acquired tastes and are not for mainstream viewers. However, if you have fond memories of the erotica from this time period, the company is doing yeoman work in preserving and presenting this fare.
Based on Mossad
agent Peter Malkin’s “Eichmann in my Hands,” the 1996 made-for-TV movie “The
Man Who Captured Eichmann,” directed by William A. Graham, tells the
suspenseful tale of the apprehension of one of the most notorious war criminals
of all time. But the
apprehension is only half the story, and the movie excels in the scenes after
the capture when Malkin (played by Arliss Howard) finds himself face-to-face
with Adolf Eichmann, a man responsible for the atrocities of the Nazi
The capture of
Eichmann (Robert Duvall, who also executive produced) in Argentina, where he
fled after the war, plays out like an old heist movie: putting together the
team, coming up with a plan and executing it despite several red herrings and
momentary obstacles. The interrogation
scenes, however, where Eichmann and Malkin square off and discuss their very
different views of the Holocaust, produce the movie’s strongest moments. Duvall
masterfully portrays the banality of evil, so much so that Malkin is left
frustrated, confused and saddened in his search for answers. It’s telling then
the movie is titled “The Man Who Captured Eichmann,” instead of “The Capture of
Eichmann.” As an action thriller, it comes up short. As a character study, it’s
Since it’s a TV movie, there aren’t any special features on the
manufactured-to-order Warner Archive DVD release. But as an example of a
higher-quality made-for-TV movies with subtle and nuanced performances by its
leading men, it would make a fine addition to a DVD library.
an episode of the Jack Benny radio show from 1948, Jack and Mary Livingstone
are being driven to the Warner Bros. studios in his "trusty" Maxwell
by his manservant, Rochester. They are stopped at the gate by the studio guard,
voiced by the wonderful Mel Blanc. When the guard demands identification in
order to be admitted, Jack tells him that he is Jack Benny. The guard still
demands ID. Benny pleads with him to recognize him: "…after all, I made a
film here a few years ago, The Horn Blows
at Midnight…I am sure you remember that!" "Remember it??? I
directed it!!!" replies Blanc as the guard. Such amusing set-ups became
some of Jack Benny's most famous self-deprecating jokes. The Horn Blows at Midnight has become legendary because of Benny's
making fun of it but as we can now see with its release on DVD, the comedy
legend was being unnecessarily harsh. The Warner Archives' recent release of
the film gives us a chance to evaluate this 1945 film for ourselves. People who
can remember the endless jokes Benny made at the expense of this much-maligned movie
will be surprised to learn that it was directed by the great Raoul Walsh
and boasted a great score by Franz
Waxman. Benny is backed by a wonderful Warner Bros. supporting cast: Guy
Kibbee, John Alexander, Franklin Pangborn, Margaret Dumont, Allyn Joslyn,
Reginald Gardiner, Mike Mazurki, a young Robert Blake, and the beautiful Alexis
Smith. The production values are high and it has some good special effects for
its time. So why the jokes?
main answer is that it did disappointing business at the box office. One
possible reason for the poor reception is that it was released within the same
week that President Franklin D. Roosevelt died. Another possible reason is that,
although it is a Jack Benny movie and Benny is very good in it, it is not the
familiar Jack Benny persona that the public had come to know and love through
his #1 top-rated radio show.
plays Athaneal, a questionable trumpet player in a radio studio orchestra that
is playing in a broadcast for a program sponsored by Paradise Coffee ("the
coffee that makes you sleep"). Athaneal actually falls asleep during the
broadcast. He dreams that he is an angel in Heaven who is being sent back down
to planet number 339001 -- "Earth," a six-day project rush job -- to
blow Gabriel's Horn at midnight to bring an end to that planet.
we have the first thing that people found fault with: they make Jack Benny an
inept trumpeter. A trumpeter? Come on…everyone knows Jack Benny was an inept
violinist. Oh, well. He reaches planet number 339001 (Earth) by borrowing a
Times Square hotel's elevator to get there. The always wonderful Franklin
Pangborn plays the prissy hotel detective trying to solve the mystery of how an
elevator just disappears. Once he's arrived, Benny plays the part with naive
wonder as an angel back on Earth after being dead for 250 years. As a matter of
fact, he died in New York, or "New Amsterdam" as it was called when
he was last there. He has to contend with two "fallen angels" played
so wonderfully by great character actors John Alexander ("Teddy" from
Arsenic and Old Lace) and Allyn
Joslyn, who know that once Athaneal blows Gabriel's Horn it's down south to a
warmer climate for them because they're no longer welcome in Heaven. The only
side effect that they suffer on Earth is a comic case of convulsions on the
hour every hour ("Well, that one wasn't so bad." "No,
comparatively mild."). All the aforementioned character actors meet up for
a surrealistic rooftop climax as Athaneal races the clock and the
"villains" while getting tangled up with a big neon advertisement
atop the Times Square Hotel. Will he see to it that the horn blows at midnight?
film gives you an opportunity to see Jack Benny play a part other than
"Jack Benny." Are there any of the well-known Benny mannerisms? Sure,
we can see glimpses. The Benny walk is there, of course. His ineptitude is a
major plot device. The closest gag involving his epic "cheapness" is
a joke involving his heavenly boss played by the great Guy Kibbee telling him
that down on planet number 339001 he will need some "money." When he
hands him the dollar bills, Athaneal asks: "What are dollars?" Yeah,
right? Jack Benny asking what dollars are!
The overall picture and sound of the
Warner Archives' DVD are very good and the original trailer is included. At 78 minutes it is an excellent Warner
Bros. comedy. A great non-Jack Benny Jack Benny film. Get this one.
The Warner Archive has reissued Paramount's long-out-of-circulation DVD of the 1968 Victorian era spy spoof The Assassination Bureau. Oliver Reed plays a British aristocrat who heads the titular organization which is comprised of well-heeled men who take it upon themselves to arrange for the assassination of prominent figures in politics and society. The Bureau is paid handsome sums by third parties to "off" these people but they pride themselves on a key rule of the organization: each victim must be deemed to be inherently evil enough to justify being murdered. Reed has inherited the Bureau from his late father and fears that the group has been lax on enforcing its own code of ethics by putting profit above the good of society. A young woman who is attempting to become England's first female newspaper journalist (Diana Rigg) approaches Reed with the promise of a large sum of money- but the caveat is that the victim is to be himself (for reasons too long to explain here). Reed surprises her by accepting the challenge and telling his colleagues that either they will succeed in killing him or he will kill them all one by one. In this way he hopes to eliminate the current bureau, which he feels is comprised of incompetent, greedy men. The film is primarily a zany farce directed by the ever-capable Basil Dearden, who had recently won praise for his direction of Khartoum (talk about diversity in a filmmaker's work!). The action is often cleverly staged but rarely generates much genuine laughter, with only some moderate amusement arising out of the off-beat premise. Instead, it's primary pleasures come from the wonderful cast that includes future Bond alumni Telly Savalas (who would team with Rigg later in the year for On Her Majesty's Secret Service), Curt Jurgens and Vernon Dobtcheff (The Spy Who Loved Me), not to mention notable character actors like Kenneth Griffith, Beryl Reid, Philippe Noiret and Clive Revill. The production design is particularly impressive but the farcical elements occasionally make Casino Royale (1967) look like an exercise in comedic restraint. Still, this is an enjoyable romp that any 60s spy movie fan will want in their DVD collection. The disc contains no extras.
Released four years before the comedy smash Airplane!, the film that inspired it remains relatively obscure to all but the most devoted retro movie lovers. The Big Bus was Paramount's spoof of the disaster movie genre which had peaked in 1974 with the release of two blockbusters- Earthquake and The Towering Inferno- and one other major hit, Airport '75. The genre then ran out of steam just as The Big Bus went into production, which might explain why it was received anemically by both audiences and critics. Yet, it's a film with many pleasures and it is consistently amusing throughout. The Big Bus delivers some giggles whereas Airplane! provides many belly laughs. The genius actor of Airplane!, however, is that the producers had the wisdom to cast three of Hollywood's great stone faces- Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges and Leslie Nielsen- in comedic roles that surprised audiences. In fact, it revitalized all three actor's careers with their deft handling of absurd situations. The casting of The Big Bus was not as innovative because virtually every actor involved had been known for their work in comedies. However, it is an inspired cast that includes Joseph Bologna and Stockard Channing in the lead roles and a wonderful group of talented second bananas that includes Sally Kellerman, Richard Mulligan, Stuart Margolin, Jose Ferrer, Harold Stone, Larry Hagman, Richard B. Shull, Ned Beatty, Rene Auberjonois, Ruth Gordon, Bob Dishy, Lynn Redgrave, Vic Tayback and Vito Scotti. The only surprise is the comedic talents of John Beck, who had a short-lived career as a dramatic heart throb in the mid-to-late 1970s.
The plot concerns the debut run of a super spectacular bus that is powered by nuclear energy. The maiden voyage of "The Cyclops" finds the usual diverse group of passengers that permeate any disaster movie: a battling married couple, a quirky priest, a discredited hero looking to salvage his reputation, his one-time lover, a terminally ill man trying to enjoy his remaining days, a cranky old lady, etc. The bus is being piloted by Bologna, who plays a driver who has been alienated by his colleagues because of suspicion that he devoured the passengers on a previous journey that found his vehicle stranded in the mountains. (He maintains his innocence by insisting he only ate one foot that was surreptitiously placed in a stew made up of seat cushions!) His ex-girl friend, Channing, is the designer of the bus and is on board for the maiden journey. Along the way an eccentric millionaire oil man who is in an iron lung (Ferrer) schemes to sabotage the bus with a bomb in order to thwart the advancement of nuclear energy. Much of the humor relates to the production design aspects of the bus interior which is over-the-top tacky even in the era of leisure suits and wide ties. There is a garish decor complete with an omnipresent lounge singer who works every disaster along the way into one of his cheesy vocal numbers. The provides the requisite rapid fire jokes, some of which fall completely flat while others resonate quite well. The cast is in top form and everyone seems to be having a great time with each star given their moments to shine. One of the problems is that the bus, which was supposed to seem like an absurd concept in 1976, no longer generates many laughs partly because such monstrosities are now in operation in our major cities (minus the nuclear power, of course). The film culminates in a witty and very inspired cliff-hanger ending that is an homage to the fabled finale of the original version of The Italian Job.
The Big Bus was available years ago on Paramount DVD but has been out of circulation for some time. Happily, it is now available through the Warner Archive. The picture is crisp and clean throughout, though -as with most Paramount titles- it is devoid of any bonus extras. The film pales in comparison to Airplane! but any retro movie lover with a passion for disaster movies of the era will find it an amusing experience.
As Cinema Retro gets inundated with DVDs to review during the course of any given year, it's virtually impossible to keep up with all of them in a timely manner. Here are some notable titles you should be aware of:
Cabaret Blu-ray (Warner Home Video): Warner Home Video has inherited the rights to Bob Fosse's classic 1972 film adaptation of the stage production that, in turn, was based on Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories. The Blu-ray comes packaged in one of those irresistible hardback book formats that is loaded with wonderful photos from the movie. The movie itself holds up superbly even after 40 years. The decline of Germany's Weimar Republic amidst the rise of National Socialism in the 1930s is seen through the eyes of nightclub singer Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli) and her constant companions (Michael York, Helmut Griem) . Fosse's decision to emphasize the sleaze elements of the Berlin of this era helped to elevate this to the status of one of the most intelligent musicals ever put on film- and Joel Grey's eerie Emcee serves as a thinly-veiled metaphor for for the moral destruction of a great nation. The set is packed with extras including recent and previously-released interviews with cast and crew members, a new documentary about the making of the film, an audio commentary track by author Stephen Tropiano, who wrote a book about the making of Cabaret and an original trailer. This title should be deemed as essential for any classic movie library.
I'M DICKENS, HE'S FENSTER COLLECTOR'S EDITION (Lightyear Video/TV Time Machine): This 1962 sitcom lasted but one season but remains one of the more intriguing programs of its era. The show had the misfortune of being up against the popular Mitch Miller program and Route 66. Ratings suffered initially and ABC decided to cancel the series. However, ratings began to climb as positive word of mouth and good reviews began to spread. Ironically, the series began to gain more viewers than its competition but by then the leading actors had moved on to other projects. The show languished in Bootleg Heaven with no official DVD release until this 16 episode set was unveiled last year by TV Time Machiine and Lightyear Video. It features half of the show's episodes, 16 in all, each beautifully remastered. The series presents John Astin and Marty Ingalls as best friends who are also business partners who own their own handyman service. Although many people call the show a lost classic, I find only moderately amusing. In fact, the show's demise resulted in John Astin going on to star in a true TV classic, The Addams Family and left its creator, Leonard Stern, free to work with Mel Brooks in developing Get Smart! Nevertheless, the show is a pleasurable experience on all levels with the two leads demonstrating the deft comedic timing that would lead them to greater stardom in the years to come. What is outstanding is the love and care that has been put into this set. They include audio commentaries by Astin and Ingles along with guest stars Yvonne Craig, Lee Meriwether, Dave Ketchum, Chris Korman (son of Harvey Korman) and Leonard Stern, who passed away shortly thereafter. There are also any number of featurettes about the series and a wealth of vintage network TV ads. In all, a truly superb presentation of a show that few people are even aware of. The video company is said to be hoping to raise enough funding to release the second half of the show's only season.
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Warner Archive): Director Tony Richardson's acclaimed 1962 film is the epitome of the British "kitchen sink drama", a genre that revolutionized film making in that country and reflected the concerns of the economically disenfranchised. Britain may have been on the winning side in WWII, but the financial repercussions of the conflict lingered for decades, resulting in a stagnant, class-driven society in which those on the bottom rungs found it very difficult to climb out of their impoverished situations. Consequently a generation of troubled youths emerged. Richardson's film poignantly shows the consequences of having young people come of age in a society that offers them little hope for advancement. Inevitably, many will take the wrong turn in life. The story follows a young man, Colin Smith (Tom Courtenay in a remarkable, star-making performance) as he is sent to a borstal, which is a juvenile corrections facility. Here, he finally finds something of value to center his attention on: his skills as a long distance runner. The facility's warden (Michael Redgrave) nurtures the young man until it becomes apparent that he is using him for his own personal aggrandizement. This leads to a suspense-laden, shocking conclusion centered around an all-important long distance race. Richardson's direction is flawless and the black and white cinematography only adds to the appropriately sullen look of the film. Superb supporting performances by all. (James Bond fans should keep an eye out for future 007 villain Joe Robinson as a track coach). This film is a true classic of British cinema.
Mel Brooks: Make a Noise (Shout! Factory): This is the complete American Masters PBS broadcast of a documentary that chronicles the remarkable life and career of Mel Brooks. As Brooks is very much alive and well, he is able to relate the highs and lows of his life as only he can relate them in his inimitable style. The 2013 shows finds Brooks reminiscing about working for Sid Caesar on Your Show of Shows, where Brooks was considered to be too manic even by the likes of Caesar. He also relates funny anecdotes about his childhood and WWII experiences. Most of these stories have been told by Brooks for decades but his sheer exuberance and energy are infectious. The documentary by Robert Trachtenberg includes testimonials from such key comedic figures as Rob Reiner, Joan Rivers, Tracey Ullmann and Brooks' long-time collaborator Carl Reiner. The DVD also contains a number of out-takes from the PBS special. Well worth a viewing if you have any love for classic comedy.
The Blue Hour/ One Naked Night/ Three in a Towel Triple Feature (Vinegar Syndrome): This is a triple feature of obscure retro erotica films. The main feature, The Blue Hour, is not really a sexploitation film in the traditional sense as it is far too pretentious in its attempt to emulate art house movie fare. The 1971 production begins with opening credits that take so long to unspool they almost need an intermission. It's a sign of how boring even a film that features an abundance of nudity can be. The story centers on a young Greek woman who is now living in America and married to a successful therapist/businessman. However, she is haunted by images of sexual atrocities that she has endured at various stages of her life including a confusing scenario in which she may have murdered a young Greek priest with whom she was romantically involved. The film boasts some exotic photography but it lumbers along to a completely abrupt and unsatisfying conclusion. The acting ranges from passable to atrocious. Far more interesting is One Naked Night, a 1965 B&W "quickie" that chronicles the exploits of another troubled young woman who moves from a small town to New York City. She ends up rooming with some party girls and is corrupted along the way leading to a conclusion that is rather shocking. The film is a virtual female version of Midnight Cowboy with mean ol' Manhattan proving to be a devil's playground of corruption for innocent young newcomers. The real appeal of the film is not the occasional flashes of nudity but the fact that it presents tantalizing glimpses of the Big Apple during the mid 1960s including Times Square, the infamous Playland arcade, the Latin Quarter and other hot spots of the era. There is also a quaint feel to even the sex sequences including a tender seduction of our heroine by a lesbian roommate, chain smoking swingers, stag movies shown on 16mm and guys who get dressed up in jackets and ties to attend orgies. The cast of unknowns tries hard but you are aware they are strictly amateur. Nevertheless, this is an entertaining look back at a bygone era when films such as this were deemed shocking. The final entry in the triple feature is titled Three in a Towel. Shot in 1969, it's basically a glorified home movie shot in color in various sections of San Francisco. The movie focuses on a young man's erotic dreams of being a sensual version of Walter Mitty and bedding many nubile young women. The film was obviously shot as a silent feature with narration and sound effects added later. It's a crude production played strictly for laughs and the sex is relegated to an abundance of female nude shots but the action never gets beyond soft core. A "highlight" of the film is a scene in which three hippie chicks eat a banana in a suggestive manner while groping each other. Bizarrely, the narrator uses Shakespearean quotes throughout....At least the filmmakers didn't take it all very seriously. The opening titles read a "A Miracle Production-- If It Turns Out to be a Good Movie, It's a Miracle!". The only other credit is "Produced by The Saint" but it seems pretty obvious we're not talking about Roger Moore here. The film is an utter waste of time aside from some interesting visuals of San Francisco in the late 1960s and ends up being about as erotic as a wet noodle. The transfers vary in quality based on the crude source materials but The Blue Hour has undergone a restoration process. In all, an interesting package of largely forgotten films that would otherwise have been lost to time. Their entertainment value is debatable but from a sociological standpoint, they may bring back some interesting memories if you lived through this era. There are no extras other than a trailer for Three in a Towel that promises a lot more sex than it actually delivers.
Nichols: The Complete Series (Warner Archives): The Warner Archives has released all 24 episodes of the little-seen TV series Nichols that starred James Garner. The show aired in 1971-72 but, despite Garner's star power, it was canceled after one season. Garner was just one of the Hollywood superstars who, by the 1970s, felt they should move to television. This was in direct contrast to the prevailing wisdom of the early days of TV in which it was regarded as a second rate medium for name actors to appear in. Among the other shows that failed in the 1970s were ones top-lined by the likes of Henry Fonda and James Stewart. Nichols presents Garner in his most popular on-screen alter-ego: a likable, laid-back anti-hero. Set in 1914, the pilot episode finds him as a career soldier in the U.S. cavalry who resigns due to his increasingly pacifist nature (an obvious nod to the anti-Vietnam War movement that was raging at the time). Nichols makes his way back to the small home town that bears his family name expecting to live a life of leisure. Instead, he finds his parents are dead and his estate has been swindled away by con men. The town has degenerated into a raucous place where a small group of corrupt citizens call the shot. Nichols is reluctantly enlisted to be the new sheriff and, a la Andy Griffith's Sheriff Taylor, he refuses to wear a gun and uses his wits to thwart his adversaries. The show boasts fine production values and some impressive cast members and guest stars (Margot Kidder is the love interest, playing a local saloon owner.) As with any TV series, the episodes vary in terms of quality, but watching Garner at this point in his career is certainly an entertaining way to pass some hours. Although audiences didn't warm to this show, they certainly didn't lose their affection for Garner, who went on to star in the smash hit series The Rockford Files a few years later. (That show's co-star, Stuart Margolin, also appears in Nichols.)
Wanted: Dead or Alive: The Complete Series (Mill Creek): The Mill Creek video company has repackaged and re-released Wanted: Dead or Alive: The Complete Series. The show made a star of young Steve McQueen, who played a bounty hunter in the old West. The series premiered in 1958 and ran for 94 30 minute episodes, all of which are presented in this collector's edition on multiple DVDs. McQueen shows the charisma and self-assured manner that would help elevate him to big screen superstardom a few years later. The show was also a training ground for upcoming directors, writers and other actors including Lee Van Cleef, Michael Landon, Warren Oates, James Coburn and DeForest Kelly. The writing and acting hold up extremely well, a reflection of an era when intelligent Westerns ruled the roost in terms of TV ratings. The boxed set also includes 4 colorized bonus episodes (which look surprisingly good), a photo gallery, some featurettes about various aspects of the show including McQueen's famed sawed-off shotgun that he carried in a holster and a digital reproduction of a comic book based on the show. There is also the complete public domain feature film The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery starring McQueen. In all, an outstanding value.
Twilight Time has released director/writer Walter Hill's 1978 thriller The Driver as a limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray. The film is intentionally antiseptic when it comes to development of characters. They are deliberately opaque. In fact, not one character in the movie has a name. The credits refer to them by their professions or physical characteristics. Ryan O'Neal stars in an almost wordless role (he speaks literally 350 words according to the informative liner notes by Julie Kirgo) as a legendary Los Angeles wheelman who gets paid big sums of money to drive getaway cars in the commission of crimes. The Driver doesn't know the people he is in league with and sentiment plays no part in his decision as to whether to accept an assignment. It's strictly based on the money to be earned and his confidence in the people pulling off the caper. The film opens on the robbery of a gambling den in Los Angeles. The crooks bungle their time table, leading The Driver to have to enact death-defying stunts in order to outrun a fleet of police cars in rapid pursuit. He succeeds in doing so but curtly informs his confederates that he will never work with them again because of their lack of professionalism. Meanwhile an arrogant detective (Bruce Dern) is excited by the challenge of finally capturing and convicting The Driver, a man he has been pursuing with a Javert-like zeal for years. He recovers a piece of evidence that leads him to The Driver. The Detective is blatantly breaking the law by setting up a crime and forcing some petty criminals to approach The Driver to be the wheelman. If they succeed in enlisting him for the job, they will walk away from jail sentences. The Detective doesn't want them: he only wants them to lure in the big fish so he can have the ultimate victory. To say that things go wrong across the board would be an understatement but the scenario allows Walter Hill to stage some of the most spectacular car chases in the history of the medium. He was clearly inspired by the success of Bulllitt, which he worked on, and he replicates that film's effective method of mounting a camera inside each speeding car. The result is thrilling. The caper aspect of the story is less impressive largely because of the vaguely-defined characters. Each one is unlikable and somewhat obnoxious. We root for The Driver only because The Detective is so egotistical and morally ambiguous. Isabelle Adjani is thrown into the mix as sexy window dressing but she saunters around wearing a glum, depressed expression and the script does not provide any opportunity for her to develop on screen chemistry with O'Neal. O'Neal, always a competent but bland and unexciting actor, is actually in his element in this role, as it seems to suit his real life personality. Dern steals the show because his character at least has some interesting eccentricities to play off of. There are some fine sequences aside from the chase scenes, with Dern's pursuit of a suspect aboard an Amtrak train especially exciting, even though it seems based on a similar sequence in Peckinpah's The Getaway. Ronnee Blaklee gives a fine performance as a southern woman caught up in the L.A. crime scene who pays a terrible price for that affiliation in the film's most disturbing sequence. The Driver is an imperfect film but it is an exciting one.
The Twilight Time release boasts a first rate transfer, an original trailer that shows a snippet of a kiss between Adjani and O'Neal that I don't believe ended up in the final cut and a deleted original opening sequence that gives a bit more depth to the characters but which drags along at a snail's pace. Hill was right to eject it from the film.
In all, another fine Twilight Time release and one that is highly recommended.
George Stevens' acclaimed 1953 Western blockbuster Shane finally gets the Blu-ray treatment from Paramount. The release is identical to a previously-issued DVD special edition. Alan Ladd stars as a mysterious drifter who comes to the aid of a struggling couple (Van Heflin, Jean Arthur) who are trying to hold together a shaky coalition of besieged farmers who are being terrorized by a greedy cattleman who is determined to drive them off their land. The silent, slow-to-anger Shane also becomes an idol to the couple's young son (Brandon De Wilde) who is mesmerized by the fact that the family's new friend is an ex-gunslinger with a notorious past. Shane explains that he has put violence behind him and is now determined to live a peaceful life. However, as the danger to the farmers intensifies, he inevitably feels he must take action one more time in the interest of justice. Stevens' masterful direction made this film one of the great entries in the Western genre and the Blu-ray does justice to his painstaking detail for production design and cinematography. (You can clearly see that notorious blooper of a pickup truck driving in the distance over Alan Ladd's introductory shot in the film.)
The movie would be a career high for Ladd and although he acquits himself well, I always felt that he was too much of a gentle screen presence to completely convey a gunfighter with a sordid past. The role probably would have been better suited for John Wayne. Having said that, the production benefits from superb supporting performances with Heflin particularly good as a man of peace who feels compelled to fight for his family's survival. Most memorable is Jack Palance in a stunning performance as Shane's antagonist, a fast-gun mercenary named Wilson. The other fine supporting cast members include such stalwarts as Elisha Cook Jr., Ben Johnson and Edgar Buchanan. The film remains compelling to this day and the suspense-packed finale still hold great emotional impact.
The extras include a commentary track by George Stevens Jr. (who worked on the film) and associate producer Ivan Moffat. A theatrical trailer is included but one would have hoped that a film of this importance would have merited a "making of" documentary. Nonetheless, this is the best video release of Shane to date.
(Note to Paramount's marketing team: please remove the ludicrous photo of Ladd that has adorned the back of the sleeve since the film's initial DVD release. It depicts the actor in a preposterous sheriff's costume that makes him resemble a member of the Village People and is from an entirely different movie. It would be nice if the people in charge of packaging were actually required to watch the film first.)
Those naughty folks at Impulse Pictures have done well by digging up and marketing retro European and Japanese erotic films from bygone eras. Among the more popular releases are the "Schoolgirl" titles that were very popular in Germany during the 1970s. Each release presents several short stories relating to the sexual escapades of German high school girls. (The fact that most of the actresses look a bit long in the tooth to be playing 16 and 17 year old girls becomes less bothersome once the clothes are shed.) Impulse has just released volume 10 in this series which consists of a film originally released in 1976. The thinly-plotted script features story lines that are erratic in content as well as execution. The story opens with a female teacher addressing an all-girls classroom in a discussion on contemporary sexuality. As the girls debate social mores, several of them relate personal experiences. The first tale involves a middle-aged male teacher who is accused of raping a student he was tutoring. The man professes his innocence to a local prosecutor who is interviewing him about the case. (In a bizarre tactic, the prosecutor breaks the "fourth wall" and addresses the viewer directly, though this element does not appear in any other segment of the film). His young student claims she arrived at his apartment for her first lesson and that she was plied with liquor and was seduced by the teacher, who deflowered her. In an anemic conclusion, one of her fellow students comes forward with information that exonerates the teacher. This yawn-inducing scenario seems a mere pretense for showing the young girl disrobing and getting it on. In fact, the story presents flashbacks within flashbacks within flashbacks. The second story revolves around a gorgeous virgin who is desperate to make love. The rather flaccid scenario finds her learning a life lesson by cheapening her own values through having sex with a series of cads and suffering being gang raped (never shown, but implied). The next tale is somewhat more engrossing with a snarky teenage girl in conflict with her sexy stepmother. She induces a would-be lover to engage in an elaborate plot to discredit the stepmother so that her father divorces her. In return for the young man's cooperation, she promises to finally have sex with him. The plan involves the young hunk actively courting and seducing the stepmother while the daughter secretly documents the adultery by taking photos. The whole scenario comes to an ironic conclusion that sees the deceitful daughter getting her just desserts. The most amusing segment finds two young lovers who are frustrated by their lack of privacy. Inspired by William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist, the couple concocts a crazy scheme to finally get them into bed together in her parent's house. This is accomplished by having the girl pretend she is possessed by a demon. The over-the-top slapstick humor has the young woman walking around cross-eyed, rolling about the landscape and engaging in obscene behavior. In one scene she enter the family kitchen, drops her panties and exclaims to her mother, "I own this pussy and it's burning!" (And you thought Linda Blair had some rough dialogue to get through...) With their daughter's "possession" out of control, the family engages the services of an exorcist, who turns out to be her lover in disguise. Behind closed doors, he performs a loud and very violent exorcism, but its really just the two of them having wild sex. The goofy premise is actually fairly amusing. The final tale has another gorgeous high school girl pampered by her middle-aged, married lover. When his wife finds out, complications ensue and she ends up becoming involved with the man's nephew (who somehow looks as old as his uncle).
The series definitely caters to female sensibilities. Women are generally presented in an intelligent manner and the sex scenes are fairly vivid but softcore and tastefully done. (Nothing too kinky here.) One of the most unintentionally amusing aspects of the film involves the English sub-titles which show that Germans must have felt at the time that the word "bang" was used constantly in American society. (One girl greets her would-be suitor by saying, "You want to bang me, right?") This misconception is an amusing reminder of how no one could convince director Sergio Leone that the phrase "Duck you sucker!" was not a common part of the American vernacular. He was so convinced that it was that he titled one of his most prominent films with this bizarre phrase. This latest Schoolgirl entry (pardon the pun) has relatively rich production values in that there are an abundance of sequences shot in actual locations as opposed to bedrooms. An enjoyable aspect of the movie is that it allows the viewer to relive the 1970s for better or worse. We see young people's bedrooms adorned with posters from Easy Rider. There are tacky fashions, high school girls with hairy armpits and the kind of grainy cinematography that was a mainstay of the era.
The movie is definitely a guilty pleasure but it's painless and largely inoffensive to watch- and it does boast some genuinely erotic moments.
After decades of languishing in relative obscurity, the 1966 Italian Western The Big Gundown seems to be all the rage this year with both Grindhouse Releasing and Explosive Media's special collector's editions of the Sergio Leone-inspired film that starred Lee Van Cleef and Tomas Milian. This review deals with the Grindhouse release (the Explosive Media special edition is primarily being marketed to European viewers.) Grindhouse, which was co-founded by the late Sage Stallone and Oscar-winning editor Bob Murawski (The Hurt Locker), is dedicated to preserving films that have built a cult following or have suffered from lack of mainstream exposure. Consequently, the company has built up a loyal following of grateful retro cinema fans. After a two-year hiatus following Stallone's untimely death in 2012 at age 36, Murawski is carrying the torch and has recently resumed releasing some very interesting titles on Blu-ray. The Big Gundown has generally been acclaimed as the best of the non-Leone Italian Westerns. In fact, it's so good in comparison to the often awful other films in this genre, that it was said Leone himself was somewhat jealous of the movie's success. One reason for Leone's bitterness may have been that the movie starred Lee Van Cleef, whose career he had saved through the starring roles afforded him in For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Gundown was shot after the former film and before the latter, but not released in the USA until after The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The delay only enhanced the film's appeal to American audiences, as GBU had proven to be a boxoffice smash and had made Van Cleef a household name. The movie was directed by Sergio Sollima who co-wrote the script with Sergio Donati, a collaborator of Leone's. The story concerns a bounty hunter named Corbett (Van Cleef) who is hired to track down and kill a Mexican peasant named Sanchez (Tomas Milian) who allegedly raped and killed a 12 year-old girl. Corbett is pressured into taking the job by Brokston (Walter Barnes), a rich and influential rancher who convinces Corbett that slaying Sanchez would pave the way for a successful political career. Corbett realizes that Brokston simply wants a crony in the state house to do his bidding, but nevertheless agrees to take the assignment. Tracking down Sanchez proves to be more difficult than he anticipated. The charismatic and self-reliant wanted man engages Corbett in a cat-and-mouse chase across the countryside, narrowly avoiding capture at several points. When Corbett does manage to get the drop on him, Sanchez manages to outwit his captor and escape. When he is finally cornered, Brokston and a small army of men turn up to ensure that Sanchez is executed- but Corbett reveals some startling information that leads to unexpected and violent developments.
Director Sollima presents a visually arresting film with an intelligent script, better dubbing than most Italian Westerns of this period and fine performances with Van Cleef and Milian playing well against each other in the manner that Van Cleef and Clint Eastwood did in their collaborations with Sergio Leone. The film is enhanced by yet another great musical score by Ennio Morricone, who composed the music for so many films of this period that he must have perfected a way of doing so in his sleep. The production rises above other films of this genre and if the movie never quite reaches the level of Leone's work, it can certainly be compared favorably. I would rank it, along with The Five Man Army, as the best non-Leone work to be found among the European Westerns. Sadly, when the film was released by Columbia in the USA, studio executives butchered the original cut. Some of this was to do with pacing and emphasizing action over dialogue-heavy scenes. There was also concern that Sollima's penchant for heavy-handed left wing political analogies to contemporary society. In any event, the result was that there have been numerous hybrid bootleg versions of The Big Gundown circulating for many years.
The Grindhouse release is superb on every level beginning with a stunningly beautiful transfer that presents the film in a nearly flawless state. The Blu-ray special edition affords Citizen Kane-like analysis and presentation to the film. The mammoth 4 disc collector's edition would require an entire day of binge viewing in order to properly appreciate all the variations of the film that are presented here. In fact, it would be too confusing to attempt to explain all the nuances in this space. However, here is a sample of the highlights:
Blu-ray presentation of the original uncensored English language edition of the film that includes three scenes which were originally edited out.
Blu-ray of Sollima's original director's cut under its original title, La resa dei conti
DVD of a 95 minute "expanded U.S. cut"
Bonus CD of Ennio Morricone's original soundtrack recording of the score.
A fascinating selection of in-depth interviews including Sergio Sollima and Tomas Milian, both of whom provide very interesting perspectives on the film and their careers in general. The Milian interview, shot last year, makes it clear that this is a man who has attained great respect in the international film industry, as illustrated by clips from some of his other major movies including the Oscar-winning Traffic. Milian tells very amusing stories about working in the Italian cinema during its glory days and mingling with the likes of Fellini and other major forces in the industry. There are also interviews with Sergio Donati who regards Sollima with affection even though he says they eventually had a feud that led to them parting ways professionally. Donati also discusses his relationship with Sergio Leone and why the famed director had resentment toward The Big Gundown.
There is also a wide variety of original trailers and TV spots plus a major selection of original production stills and international advertising materials. If you're as big of a geek for this type of material as I am, you'll be most grateful for its inclusion.
There is a also a feature length commentary by film historians C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Parke, both of whom do yeoman work on describing interesting insights into the making of the film and the the personalities involved. The only drawback is that neither man introduces himself at the beginning of the commentary track so it becomes a bit confusing as to who you are listening to.
Joyner also provides excellent liner notes in the accompanying collector's booklet in which he comprehensibly lays out the differences in the various versions of the film. The booklet also contains an essay on Morricone's score by Gergely Hubai.
In summary, Grindhouse Releasing has outdone itself with this presentation of a very esteemed cult Western. For my money, its the best independent video release of 2013.
The name Wakefield Poole may not mean much to mainstream audiences but in the 1970s he was quite a controversial filmmaker. Poole initially trained for the ballet then drifted into movie making. In 1971, Poole released Boys in the Sand, the first "up market" hardcore gay movie. It caused quite a sensation and was immediately embraced by long-suffering gay males who heretofore had to be content with low-end, quickly shot pornographic "loops" that played in Times Square grindhouses. Poole's film was taken seriously by the critical establishment and actually earned praise in reputable publications like Variety. The film actually cracked Variety's list of the top 50 grossing films in America, an amazing achievement for a movie with limited appeal and distribution. It also made a gay movie icon of actor Casey Donovan. Poole and Donovan followed this project up with another hardcore porn flick, Bijou, which was released in 1972. Inspired by the fact that his filmmaking techniques were being praised, Poole became more ambitious and managed to cobble together a then sizable budget for his next film, Wakefield Poole's Bible! (yes, the exclamation point was part of the title.) Poole attempted to take three tales from the Bible and bring them to the screen using his own spin on the narratives. We see Adam and Eve, David and Bathsheba and Samson and Delilah in period settings but through Poole's unique perspective. Poole opted to give his actors no dialogue. The film is played silently to the accompaniment of classical music. The result is one of the most bizarre experimental films of its era. Although Poole claims he had a budget of $150,000 other sources state it was actually less than half that. Regardless, it was a significant sum compared to the budgets of his previous ventures. Poole managed to do a lot with very little. Using creative locations and camerawork, he sometimes succeeds in conveying an interesting look for his trilogy of Biblical tales. Most impressive are the film's opening scenes in which we first see Adam. Shot amid some rather stunning rock formations on a beach, Poole soon introduces us to Adam's first encounter with Eve. Understandably, it doesn't take the only man and woman on earth to get down to doing what men and women like to do. The sequence is more romantic than erotic and this sets the tone for the rest of the film. The David and Bathsheba segment stars Georgina Spelvin, then riding the wave of worldwide publicity for her success in the notorious Devil in Miss Jones, considered by many to be the most accomplished porn movie ever made. Although Poole has Spelvin cavorting around fully naked, he presents the Biblical tale as a slapstick comedy with a sexually frustrated wife unable to interest her husband, a macho army general, in anything relating to love making. The third tale is the most effective with actress Gloria Grant (who went on to a legitimate career, winning an Emmy in the process) as a visually striking Delilah who seduces Samson as part of a plot to punish him for the murder of an innocent person.
The Vinegar Syndrome video label has released Wakefield Poole's Bible! as a special DVD edition, restored and presented in its uncut format. While Poole can be commended for trying to achieve something outside the porn film industry, the movie was too bizarre to appeal to mainstream audiences. Paradoxically, it also alienated Poole's core following of gay men by presenting tales of heterosexual sex, albeit in a softcore format. Not helping matters was the fact that the movie was slapped with an X rating, which even at the time seemed unnecessarily harsh. Poole theorized that it would have been given an "R" rating had the movie been made by anyone else, but his name and that of Spelvin virtually ensured retribution from the ratings board. By his own admission, the film was a flop and was only seen by a relative handful of people in its initial release. The movie has some striking visual elements, some of them effective and creative and others bordering on the pretentious. It's hard to imagine that Poole ever envisioned this pet project being embraced by movie goers on a wide basis.
The DVD is first class and provides bonus features that are far more interesting than the film itself. These include both vintage and recent interviews with Poole, who candidly assesses his own career highs and lows. Poole also provides a brief introduction to the movie as well as an interesting audio commentary track. There is also recent filmed interview with Georgina Spelvin, who claims making the movie was delightful from her perspective. She also tells an amusing story of how she got into the porn industry. As a struggling actress, she was delighted to get a role in a minor film. It wasn't until she began filming a love scene that the director told her in a matter-of-fact manner to start performing oral sex on her male co-star. Spelvin considered it a sign of her dedication to her profession that she suppressed her shock and just went ahead with the task, taking solace from the fact that the guy was "cute". She is a very amusing lady and one wishes her interview segment went on even longer. Similarly, a new interview with Gloria Grant, who also professes pride in her striking performance in the film. She says she still has no regrets about appearing naked on screen because she came into this world naked. The other bonus features include costume tests, a still gallery, a trailer and- most provocatively- silent screen tests of the male and female actors who enact various poses while completely naked. It's somehow far more erotic than the film itself.
Wakefield Poole's Bible! may have been a commercial and artistic failure, but the DVD is entertaining on so many levels that we can highly recommend it because it offers some fascinating insights into one of the strangest film projects of its era.
Warner Home Video has released a Blu-ray special edition of William Wyler's 1946 classic. If Wyler's greatest hit was his 1959 remake of Ben-Hur, it can be said that The Best Years of Our Lives is perhaps his most emotionally engaging film. (At the time of its release it became the second highest grossing film of all time, behind Gone With the Wind.) The movie was nominated for nine Oscars, winning eight. The film relates the story of several U.S. servicemen and the challenges they face in re-entering society in the immediate aftermath of WWII. Al (Fredric March) easily resumes his career as a successful businessman. Fred (Dana Andrews) comes from the other side of the tracks and finds his homecoming a lot bumpier, both financially (he can't find a decent job) and emotionally (he has to deal with a greedy floozy of a wife played by Virginia Mayo.) Most challenging of all is the plight of Homer (Harold Russell) a U.S. Navy vet who lost both of his hands in combat and who must cope by his expert use of hooks as faux "hands". The screenplay expertly intertwines the stories of these friends with diverse backgrounds and personalities and their situations spoke to a generation of servicemen who found their readjustment to society to be anything but smooth. The film features remarkable performances by the above actors with Oscar winner Russell (a real-life amputee who had never appeared in a film before) stealing the show. The poignant sequence in which Al's wife (Myrna Loy) has a sudden recognition that her husband has returned home is probably waiting for her in the hallway of their apartment is one of the most emotional scenes ever filmed. The Blu-ray is a recycling of a previous DVD special edition but it isn't quite special enough for a film of this importance. The extras are relegated to interviews with Teresa Wright, who played Loy and March's teenage daughter in the film, and Virginia Mayo who discusses how her role as a "bad girl" defied her squeaky clean image. There is also a trailer. Still, this Blu-ray release is most welcome. Click here to order.
Vinegar Syndrome (we love the name) is a DVD label that specializes in preserving and restoring vintage cinematic erotica and other cult films. Their most recent coup is the release of a double feature on Blu-ray consisting of Russ Meyer's 1964 adaptation of Fanny Hill along with Albert Zugsmith's bizarre 1967 Western comedy The Phantom Gunslinger. The dual package generously provides both films on DVD as well as their Blu-ray editions. Russ Meyer was already well-known as both a cheesecake photographer for "men's magazines" as well as a director of soft-cover sex films that generally showcased young women who were super-amply endowed. Ever the opportunist, he teamed with producer Zugsmith in 1964 for Fanny Hill, which was based on a notorious 18th century novel that chronicled the sexual escapades of a promiscuous young woman. Such was the book's controversial impact that when it was reprinted in the early 1960s it was banned in some quarters for obscenity. The publisher and civil libertarians contested the ruling and the subsequent court battle put ol' Fanny right in the midst of the contemporary news cycle. Zugsmith, who was a producer of some repute (The Incredible Shrinking Man, Touch of Evil) had by this point concentrated on low-brow exploitation fare. He reasoned that if the country was up in arms over a two hundred year old book, audiences would go wild over a film adaptation of the story. The plot centers on Fanny (Leticia Roman) as a buxom blonde farm girl who arrives in London, naive and clueless about the ways of the world. She is quickly "adopted" by Mrs. Brown (Miriam Hopkins), a seemingly benevolent older woman who is, in fact, a madame who wants to exploit Fanny's innocence by turning her into a prostitute. What she doesn't count on is just how naive Fanny is. Even when residing with numerous other ladies of the night, she fails to catch on to the fact that the place is a bordello. Mrs. Brown tries on several occasions to financially benefit from renting the young virgin to any number of eager patrons, but fate always intervenes before the act can be consummated. When Fanny falls in love with Charles (Ulli Lommel), a dashing and chivalrous young sailor, Mrs. Brown arranges for him to be kidnapped and taken out of the country. Thinking her lover has abandoned her, Fanny becomes despondent and out of grief agrees to marry a loathsome nobleman. As the ceremony begins, Fanny's betrothed manages to escape and make his way to the wedding where the film climaxes in a crazy, slap-stick filled brawl. Viewers may be puzzled by the almost complete absence of eroticism in the film, along with relatively few lingering shots of semi-dressed young women. The whole enterprise is so chaste it could be shown today on the Disney Channel. This was due to the fact that Zugsmith and Meyer clashed over the content of the film, with Zugsmith insisting that comedy should be emphasized over sexual content. Meyer finished the film but justifiably regarded it as a low-grade entry on his list of cinematic achievements. What emerged is a Jerry Lewis-like farce with zany sequences in which people swing from chandeliers, cross dress and engage in various forms of mayhem. In retrospect, it seems inconceivable that the film was deemed controversial even in 1964. Zugsmith filmed the movie in West Germany using local actors for supporting roles. Although the three leads-Roman, Hopkins and Lommel- perform admirable given the circumstances, the supporting cast is encouraged to play even the most minor moments in absurd, over-the-top manner. The result is that the film's primary legacy is as an interesting relic of a bygone era when "naughty" films could still raise eyebrow without delivering much in the way of genuine eroticism.
The second entry on the DVD "double feature" is even more bizarre and makes Fanny Hill look like Last Tango in Paris in comparison. The Phantom Gunslinger was shot in Mexico as a vehicle for Albert Zugsmith to prove he was a triple threat talent, with the erstwhile fellow producing, co-writing and directing the resulting disaster. It's clear that without someone like Russ Meyer to at least try to restrain Zugsmith's instincts for broad slapstick, the project was doomed from the start. The plot, such as it is, finds a small Western town taken over by a gang of notorious outlaws. They cause some mild mayhem but mostly seem content to gorge themselves on sumptuous feasts in between flirting with the local saloon girls. The local sheriff is terrified and runs away, turning his badge over to Bill (Troy Donahue), a hunky dimwit who sets about trying to wrest control of the town from the raucous outlaws. That's about as deep as the story line goes. Zugsmith pads the film with so much slapstick it makes the average Three Stooges skit look like the work of Noel Coward. The film is certainly one of the most bizarre of its era and its hard to know whether it was ever even released theatrically in America. There is a painful element to watching Troy Donahue at this stage in his career. Only a few years earlier, he was deemed a bankable star by major studios. Whatever desperate measures persuaded him to be involved in this enterprise will probably never be known but perhaps he was inspired by the success of Clint Eastwood's spaghetti westerns. Eastwood went to Spain and collaborated with a genius named Sergio Leone. Donahue went to Mexico and was saddled with Albert Zugsmith. Such are the cruel ironies of fate. The Phantom Gunslinger is so repetitive in its gags that one is reminded that this is the kind of film they invented the fast forward remote control feature for.
Vinegar Syndrome has presented these two oddball films in pristine condition, having overseen a complete remastering process. Fanny Hill's crisp B&W cinematography is one of the better elements of the film and its safe to say that, whatever flaws The Phantom Gunslinger may have (and there are too many to list here), the movie probably never looked so good as it does through this gorgeous transfer. Vinegar Syndrome has also included some interesting bonus extras including a recent interview with Fanny Hill romantic lead Ulli Lommel that is as strange as it is entertaining. Lommel is seen attired in winter clothing and is interviewed in a park where he periodically works out on some exercise equipment(!). He tells viewers that he got the role in the film because he could speak proficient English, having grown up in the American sector of post-WWII Berlin. He also tosses out some funny, if rather insulting, comments regarding the production and the people he worked with. A second bonus extra relates to The Phantom Gunslinger with film historian Eric Schaefer (a self-described scholar of sexploitation movies) providing some sober but interesting insights into the life and career of Albert Zugsmith. The interview is far more entertaining than the feature itself. Another creative feature is reversible sleeve art that allows collectors to display either Fanny Hill or The Phantom Gunslinger as the "featured" presentation in the Blu-ray sleeve. In summary, a superior presentation of two very inferior cinematic curiosities.
The DoubleHeaded Eagle: Hitler's Rise to Power 1918-1933,a 1973 documentary by German filmmaker Lutz Becker, is not really a documentary in the traditional sense. There is no narration or point of view expressed, nor is there any original footage. Rather, the film consists entirely of rare historical German newsreel footage that loosely documents the descent into chaos that Germany experienced in the wake of its defeat in WWI. You would have to know a lot about the history of the period because the documentary makes no attempt to present a comprehensive look at how Adolf Hitler assumed power in one of the most civilized nation's on earth. (Contrary to what many people think, he did not seize the government by force.) What is rather fascinating is that Becker opts to present speeches by Hitler and his paladins in uncut format with English sub-titles. Presumably Becker doesn't need to editorialize about the content of those speeches as the effect should be self-evident to any rational viewer. The film begins with Hitler's first national address to the German people after having assumed the powers of a dictator (he would convince the reichstag to voluntarily give up most of its powers and become a body of rubber-stamping bureaucrats.) We see Hitler amid the pomp and splendor of the rallies he so favored. Grim-faced, he assumes the podium following an introduction by his loyal Minister of Propaganda Josef Goebbels who sets the tone with chilling warnings to the Jews that they are in danger of "pushing us too far" and hinting at the plans the National Socialists intended to initiate in terms of ethnic cleansing. It's frightening to see all of this taking place even in retrospect. Hitler begins his speech slowly and deliberately, but-as was his habit- would gradually assume an an almost fanatical fervor in his pronouncements. The camera pans across the packed auditorium and finds thousands of ordinary people shouting their approval of the new Fuhrer. The film then jumps back in time to newsreel footage from 1918 and Germany's struggle in the post-WWI era. However it also covers the fact that during the 1920s Berlin was thriving as a destination for the international jet set. We see clips of Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel, privileged people dressed to the nines and on the town and even Buster Keaton on a tourist visit. Yet, the stock market crash of 1929 threw all of Germany into the depths of the Depression. From such desperate times often arise dictatorial leaders.
Becker does not address a major cause for Hitler's rise to power, namely the outrageously expensive sanctions and financial burdens placed on Germany by Britain and France as war reparations. These were do draconian that the German people were left in a hopeless state of affairs. Hitler and his Nationalist Socialist party were deemed to be the cure. A master speaker, strong and assured, Hitler found the people all too willing to give up civil rights in return for financial security. Hitler delivered in spades, rebuilding the economy through government-funded jobs that saw the country's infrastructure rebuilt. He also reignited national pride and built a vast army in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. (By the time the British and French decided to do more than send angry protests, the damage had been done and Hitler preside over superior armed forces.) Soon Hitler's bizarre and sick theories about racial inferiority and superiority would have enormous consequences but most of these had not been initiated during the period of time the film covers. Again, Becker is therefore somewhat restricted because he is confined by presenting what is contained in the newsreels. They are fascinating and show Hitler from the perspective of his early rise to power. As the film ends in 1933 with Hitler's appointment as Chancellor by the aging Von Hindenberg, there is no coverage of the WWII period. There is no doubt, however, that with his appointment, Hitler was the real leader of the nation.
Becker's film is primarily of interest to hardcore history buffs. Viewers who are ill-informed about this period of history will be confused, bored or both. One would have hoped that the documentary would have provided at least a modicum of historical perspective but it is devoid of it, save for the final haunting images of Nazis burning books over the superimposed warning by the 19th century German poet Heinrich Heine, "Where they have burned books, they will burn people", a sad prophecy that was to become all-too-true.
(This review is based on a screening of the film on Netflix, where it is currently available for viewing. It is also available on DVD. Click here to order from Amazon)
Twilight Time has released the acclaimed Sexy Beast as a limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray edition. The film is regarded by many as a modern day classic of the British crime genre and while it may not equal the impact of Brit gangster flicks from bygone eras like Get Carter and The Long Good Friday, the movie stands head and shoulders above most of the dumbed-down, similarly-themed movies of more recent years. Ray Winstone stars as Gary 'Gal' Dove, a one time heist artist who is now comfortably retired in a remote Spanish villa living the good life from his ill-gotten gains. He and his wife (Amanda Redman) are enjoying their middle-aged years partying hearty with another married couple (Cavan Kendall, Julianne White) with whom they enjoy an almost inseparable relationship. Into every life a little rain must fall, however, and in their case it comes in the form of a human hurricane named Don Logan. As played by Ben Kingsley in one of his most revered performances, Logan is a terrifying figure even before we see him. When the couples learn that Logan is en route to see them, the sheer terror on their faces tell us all we need to know about this crime kingpin. When Logan does arrive, he is arrogant, irrational, sex-crazed and unpredictable-- friendly one moment and threatening the next. He orders 'Gal' to return to London to help orchestrate one more heist. When 'Gal' objects, Logan becomes completely unhinged and wreaks havoc on the close-knit group of friends. As played by Kingsley, Logan is easily one of the more memorable villains in recent screen history, a totally psychotic character whose unpredictable nature and vile mannerisms make him mesmerizing to watch. Kingsley so dominates the film that it's easy to overlook the brilliant performances of the other cast members, which includes Ian McShane as another London mobster who is part of the caper. Winstone is particularly impressive here and his scenes with Kingsley tingle with real tension.
Director Jonathan Glazer made a promising directorial debut with this film. The fact that he hasn't had any other major successes is somewhat frustrating because the man shows a flair for a unique visual style. The cinematography threatens to become a bit too pretentiously artsy at times but there is no doubt that the film contains many haunting scenes. Likewise, although the story relies on dialogue rather than violence, Glazer's penchant for fast-cutting and jumping back and forth in time can be a bit distracting. Nevertheless, this is a bold reinvention of a time-worn genre and Sexy Beast is well worth a look.
Bonus extras include a commentary track by Ben Kingsley and producer Jeremy Thomas, a short production featurette, a trailer and and isolated score track.
Cinema Retro readers know we never endorse any product or service we don't believe in. That's why this site is blissfully free of nauseating pop-up ads and inducements to invest in things like a snow shoe factory in Saudi Arabia. The small commission fees that sites earn aren't worth annoying loyal readers. We admit we were approached by Amazon many times to promote their Amazon Prime service but we generally ignored these solicitations- until we recently tried it ourselves. We are now hopelessly hooked. For $79 a year, you get 2 day shipping on thousands of products (in some cases your products literally arrive overnight.) Any product on Amazon identified by a "Prime" logo qualifies. Additionally- and this is a BIG "additionally"- you also get streaming service for countless feature films and TV series ranging from fairly recent hits to oldies-but-goodies. These can be streamed to any device or a TV that has an Amazon app on its menu. It's basically Amazon's version of Netflix...and it's a heck of a fun service, though you won't get much in the way of a good night's sleep if, like us, you're surfing through titles and decide to indulge in John Wayne's The Alamo at 1:00 AM. Nevertheless, you have nothing to lose because Amazon is offering a 30 day free trial...Just click the ad above and you're on your way.
Warner Brothers has released another magnificently packaged packaged “Blu-ray Ultimate
Edition” boxed set. ‘The James Dean Ultimate Collector’s Edition” features the Blu-ray debuts of the legendary
actor’s three motion picture classics: Rebel
Without a Cause, East of Eden and Giant.
The set is jam-packed with bonus extras including three feature length
documentaries, an all-new featurette titled Dennis
Hopper: Memories From the Warner Lot, five vintage documentaries and other
programs relating to the making of East
of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause. If
that isn’t enough, there are also audio commentaries, premiere footage,
trailers, vintage TV shows and a wealth of collectibles including a
commemorative book, poster reproductions, rare studio production memos and a
selection of wonderful 8x10 photos.
(The following review pertains to the UK release of the film on Region B format)
Acts of Annihilation
Dario Argento is the most famous Italian horror
director to be associated with the ‘giallo’ style murder mystery films that
emerged from Italy during the 1970s and early 1980s. The films were notable for
their point-of-view camerawork, their unsettling atmospherics and
nerve-jangling, claustrophobic scenes of terror. Argento is one of those
directors you either love or hate, and his work has often been accused of being
a case of style over content. His detractors cite his implausible plots, illogical
loopholes, deafening soundtracks, overacting casts and over reliance on
stylistic flourishes that float his slim narratives. His films are just too
contrived and stylised, too gimmicky, to succeed. By contrast, Argento’s fans
love his implausible plots, illogical loopholes, deafening soundtracks,
overacting casts and an over reliance on stylistic flourishes. Argento’s colour
cinematography is exquisite, with visual effects achieved via ingenious angles,
complicated set-ups, wire-guided cameras, vivid lighting, garish colour schemes
and seemingly impossible cinematic arabesques, to present moments of extreme
shock and overtly choreographed violence, often unflinchingly in close-up.
Argento virtually invented ‘gialli’ with his impressive
directorial debut. The murder mystery ‘The Bird With the Crystal Plumage’
(1970) benefited from Vittorio Storaro’s widescreen images in Cromoscope, Ennio
Morricone’s spine-tingling score and a collection of good performances – Tony
Musante and Suzy Kendall as the amateur sleuths, Eva Renzi as the gallery
murder victim, Mario Adorf as a anchorite painter and Enrico Maria Salerno as
the police investigator. Argento continued in a similar vein with ‘The Cat ‘o
Nine Tails’ (1971) and ‘Four Flies on Grey Velvet’ (1971) – the three films
became known as his ‘Animal Trilogy’ and all were scored by Morricone.
Argento’s 1970s psychological thrillers reached their zenith with ‘Deep Red’
(1975), which had David Hemmings’ jazz pianist puzzling his way through a twisted
whodunit. Argento then explored the supernatural with the first of his ‘Three
Mothers’ trilogy, ‘Suspiria’, released in 1977. This gory cataclysm of witchery
and murder remains his biggest success and finest achievement, a tour de gore.
Argento has only grasped at this magnificent malfeasance occasionally since,
which has left his fans expectant and frustrated in equal measure.
‘Tenebrae’ (1982) is one of Argento’s better post-‘Suspiria’
films and certainly holds its own within the ‘giallo’ canon. Written and
directed by Argento, it begins with New York horror fiction writer Peter Neal
(Anthony Franciosa) arriving in Rome on a promotional tour for his new
bestseller, a novel called ‘Tenebrae’ (which is Latin for ‘shadows’ or ‘darkness’).
Pretty soon Neal finds himself embroiled in a murder investigation. Captain
Germani (Giuliano Gemma) is seeking the killer of serial shoplifter Elsa Manni
(Ania Pieroni), who was murdered with a cutthroat razor and is found with pages
from Neal’s novel stuffed in her mouth – a modus operandi deployed in the novel
itself. Asks bemused Neal of the inspector: ‘If someone is killed with a Smith
& Wesson revolver, do you go and interview the president of Smith &
Wesson?’ The killings continue. Tilde (Mirella D’Angelo), a journalist who is critical
of Neal’s ‘sexist bullshit’ horror stories, and her on-off lover Marion
(Mirella Banti) are slain in their apartment block with a razor, again in
imitation of Neal’s horror fiction. Tilde’s criticism of Neal’s books parallels
the charges occasionally levelled at Argento himself, as beautiful victims die
beautiful deaths in the name of Argento’s artful darkness. The prime suspect in
the ‘Tenebrae’ case is Cristiano Berti (John Steiner) a daytime TV book
reviewer for Channel One, who is also Neal’s superfan. When an axe is planted firmly
in Cristiano’s skull, he drops off the ‘wanted’ list. John Saxon played Neal’s
literary agent Bulmer, Daria Nicolodi (from ‘Deep Red’) was Neal’s PA Anne,
film director Enzo G. Castellari’s brother Enio Girolami appeared briefly as a
store detective and Veronica Lario was Neal’s estranged, slightly unbalanced wife
Jane McKarrow. Captain Germani tells Neal that he guessed the killer’s identity
in the novel by page 30, but he’s not so quick on the real case. In the end,
with the police stumped, Neal himself turns detective – as did Musante and
Hemmings – to track down the ‘Peter Neal Tribute Act’ who is leaving a trail of
corpses littering Rome.
Neal’s book is modestly described by an advert in a
Rome bookstore as ‘Il giallo dell’anno, forse del deccennio’ – ‘The giallo of
the year, perhaps the decade’ – and the film isn’t bad either. ‘Tenebrae’ gives
Argento’s fans exactly what they want. With its gratuitous bloodletting and
stylised choreography of murder, this is over-the-top, comic-book Argento, a
partial return to ‘realism’ after the phantasms of ‘Suspiria’ and ‘Inferno’. The production’s backroom staff was of an
excellent calibre. Horror directors Lamberto Bava and Mario Soavi were the
film’s assistant directors, and the murders, involving razor, knife and axe,
were staged imaginatively by Giovanni Corridor. ‘Tenebrae’ was photographed by
Luciano Tovoli in Technicolor and 1.85:1 screen ratio (rather than Argento’s
earlier preferred format of 2.25:1 widescreen). Some of the cinematography –
pills resting on a glass tabletop, or water rinsing blood from an open razor
blade – is starling in its clarity. In a terrifying sequence, a woman Maria
(Lara Wendel) is chased through a park by a guard dog and inadvertently bumbles
into the killer’s basement lair. Before Tilde and Marion are murdered,
Argento’s camera glides up the outside of their apartment building, peeping
through windows, then sweeps up over the slate roof and swoops down to the
block’s stair landing, in an intricate camera take that seems inspired by
Sergio Leone’s gliding Chapman crane shot at Flagstone City railway station in
‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ (1968), a film Argento worked on with Leone
during the treatment stage. Another victim is stabbed in broad daylight in a
busy municipal square and ultra-weird flashbacks from the killer’s traumatic past
depict the murder of a woman (played by transsexual ‘Eva Robins’/Roberto
Coatti) who is wearing a white dress and bright red high heels. The film’s pulsating
synthesizer fugues – the pumping adrenalin of the killer or the fearful,
fleeing victims – were provided by Claudio Simonetti, Massimo Morante and Fabio
Pignatelli, who as members of the band Goblin had such success with the
soundtracks for ‘Deep Red’ and ‘Suspiria’. The film’s murders are graphically
staged with zeal – the movie ran into trouble on its first release, being
prosecuted as a ‘Video Nasty’ in the UK and appearing in the US in truncated
form as ‘Unsane’, shorn of 10 minutes. The killings are very gory – seemingly
even more so in this pristine blu-ray edition – and the house of horrors
bloodbath that climaxes the film offers plenty of the red stuff and some good
Arrow Film’s new steelbook edition of ‘Tenebrae’ is
the most comprehensive and impressive edition yet released. There are various
prints of the film out there on DVD. One has the onscreen title as TENEBRAE and
the credits and the ‘Tenebrae’ page extracts in English. Arrow’s print (running
time: 1:40:53) has the onscreen title TENEBRE and the credits and pages in
Italian text. I’ve never been mad about ‘Tenebrae’, but this Blu-ray release
has made me re-evaluate the film as one of Argento’s superior gialli –
certainly in visual terms. The colours are bold and tremendous, the cinematography
in moments as delicious as anything in ‘Suspiria’ or ‘Inferno’. Those red heels
have never looked so, erm, red. The feature itself is blu-ray Region B and DVD
Region 2, and as well as the English language dub it is available to play with Italian
audio and English subtitles. It was shot in English and Franciosa, Saxon,
Steiner and Gemma voiced themselves in the English version. A wealth of extras
include a collectors’ booklet with writing from Alan Jones and Peter
Strickland, and an interview with cinematographer Luciano Tovoli. Copious disk
extras include two audio commentaries (one by Alan Jones and Kim Newman,
another by Thomas Rostock), interviews with co-star Daria Nicolodi, composer
Claudio Simonetti, and author Maitland McDonagh (‘Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds:
The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento’). There’s also 16 minutes of Simonetti’s band
Goblin performing tracks from ‘Tenebrae’ and ‘Phenomena’ in person at a gig at
Glasgow Arches. All in, this is a definitive release of what is a strong contender
for Argento’s finest 1980s movie.
The steelbook edition of ‘Tenebrae’ is available
now from Arrow Films.
The forthcoming Criterion Blu-ray/DVD special edition of Stanley Kramer's 1963 comedy classic It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World won't be released until January 21 but you can pre-order it now on Amazon and save $10. The set will contain a combined five discs, making this Criterion's most ambitious release to date.
Here is breakdown of what you can expect from the press release:
Stanley Kramer followed
his Oscar-winning Judgment at Nuremberg with this sobering investigation of
American greed. Ah, who are we kidding? It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, about
a group of strangers fighting tooth and nail over buried treasure, is the most
grandly harebrained movie ever made, a pileup of slapstick and borscht-belt-y
one-liners performed by a nonpareil cast, including Milton Berle, Sid Caesar,
Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Spencer Tracy, Jonathan Winters, and a boatload of
other playing-to-the-rafters comedy legends. For sheer scale of silliness,
Kramer's wildly uncharacteristic film is unlike any other, an exhilarating epic
of tomfoolery. DUAL-FORMAT BLU-RAY AND DVD SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES New,
restored 4K digital film transfer of the general release version of the film,
with 5.1 surround Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray New high-definition
digital transfer of a 202-minute extended version of the film, reconstructed
and restored by Robert A. Harris using visual and audio material from the
longer original road-show version-including some scenes that have been returned
to the film here for the first time-with 5.1 surround Master Audio soundtrack
on the Blu-ray New audio commentary featuring It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
aficionados Mark Evanier, Michael Schlesinger, and Paul Scrabo New documentary
on the film's visual and sound effects, featuring rare behind-the-scenes
footage of the crew at work and interviews with visual-effects specialist Craig
Barron and sound designer Ben Talk show from 1974 hosted by director Stanley
Kramer and featuring Mad World actors Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, and Jonathan
Winters Press interview from 1963 featuring Kramer and members of the film's
cast Interviews recorded for the 2000 AFI program 100 Years . . . 100 Laughs,
featuring comedians and actors discussing the influence of the film Two-part
1963 episode of the CBC television program Telescope that follows the film's
press junket and premiere The Last 70mm Film Festival, a program from 2012
featuring cast and crew members from Mad World at the Academy of Motion Picture
Arts and Sciences, hosted by Billy Crystal Selection of humorist and voice-over
artist Stan Freberg's original TV and radio advertisements for the film, with a
new introduction by Freberg Original and rerelease trailers, and rerelease
radio spots Two Blu-rays and three DVDs, with all content available in both
formats PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film critic Lou Lumenick
We've plugged this release before, but if you are really stuck for a last minute holiday gift, forget those plans to get the guy in your life one of those neckties that lights up and says "Let me kiss you in the dark, baby!" Instead, go for the Dark Knight Ultimate Collector's Edition, which was recently released by Warner Home Video. It's one of those hernia-inducing boxed sets that is packed with goodies including:
Blu-ray editions and Ultra Violet access to all three Batman flicks directed by Christopher Nolan: Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises
A special bonus disc that includes "the complete IMAX sequences from The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises" that allows you to view these scenes in their original aspect ratios; a fascinating conversation between Christopher Nolan and veteran director Richard Donner about the challenges of revitalizing the Batman legend, a new documentary titled The Fire Rises: The Creation and Impact of the Dark Knight Trilogy.
Nobody does boxed set collectibles better than Warners and this set is no exception. You get a souvenir program of images from the films, a set of separately packaged villain art prints, a letter from Christopher Nolan and even some toy replicas of three vehicles.
Each boxed set is individually numbered and the release is limited to 141,500 units. Grab it while you can. To the Bat poles!
The good news is that Timeless Video is releasing multiple films in one DVD package. The bad news is that one of these releases, although featuring two highly-watchable leading men, presents two stinkers. Love and Bullets is a 1979 Charles Bronson starrer that Roger Ebert appropriately described at the time as "an assemblyline potboiler". The film initially showed promise. Originally titled Love and Bullets, Charlie, the movie had John Huston as its director. However, Huston left after "creative differences" about the concept of the story and its execution on screen. The absurdity of losing a director as esteemed as Huston might have been understandable if the resulting flick wasn't such a mess. However, one suspects that, whatever the conceptual vision Huston had for the movie may have been, it must have been superior to what ultimately emerged. Stuart Rosenberg, the competent director of Cool Hand Luke took over but was unable to create anything more than a sub-par action movie. The plot finds Bronson as a Phoenix cop who is reluctantly sent to Switzerland on an undercover assignment. The local prosecutor has been doggedly trying to convict a local mob kingpin (Rod Steiger) for years. Now it appears that his moll girlfriend (Jill Ireland) might be a viable witness in terms of spilling the beans about his operations. Thus, Steiger has stashed her abroad and is keeping her under constant watch. Bronson's job is to pretend he is also a mob guy and convince Ireland to return with him to Phoenix to testify against her lover. The movie seems to exist for one reason only: the main participants desired a paid working vacation in Switzerland. This concept is nothing new. The Rat Pack squeezed in filming Oceans Eleven almost as an afterthought while they were performing nightly in Las Vegas at the Sands casino. In the twilight of his years, John Ford famously got his stock company together for a jaunt to Hawaii and released the result as a big boxoffice hit called Donovan's Reef, which still must retain the status of being the most expensive home movie ever made.
Love and Bullets is such a lazy effort you have to believe it must have taken a great deal of effort for the cast to meander to the set every day. The film also illustrates the danger of love-struck leading men force-feeding the lady in their lives into virtually every movie they make. Clint Eastwood shoe-horned Sondra Locke into a string of his films in the 1970s and 1980s and while some of them were artistic and commercial successes, I always greeted their next team with a sense of bored inevitability. (Locke is also a prime perpetrator in the creation of the worst movie of Eastwood's career, The Gauntlet.) In this case, Ireland had been Mrs. Bronson for over a decade following her divorce from David McCallum. She was always a competent enough actress but the couple obviously envisioned themselves as a new William Powell/Myrna Loy teaming. Not quite. Bronson is on full automatic pilot, registering almost no emotion. Ireland overplays the role of bubble-headed moll to an embarrassing level, as though she is a character in a sitcom sketch. She is saddled with intentionally laughable fright wigs but the real joke comes when she decides to discard them for her natural hair style, which proves to be even less flattering. Absurdity piles upon absurdity as the film becomes one long, extended chase sequence with Bronson and Ireland squabbling like Ralph and Alice Kramden, if you can imagine The Honeymooners being pursued by assassins. Steiger is in full scenery-chewing mode and an impressive array of supporting actors (Val Avery, Michael V. Gazzo, Henry Silva and Strother Martin) are pretty much wasted along the way. I'm generally undemanding when it comes to the pleasures of watching an unpretentious Charles Bronson action movie but Love and Bullets represents the latter period of his career where he rarely even tried to elevate his films beyond being vehicles for an easy pay check.
Russian Roulette (originally titled Kill Kosygin!) starts out promisingly enough but ultimately ends up being as unsatisfying as Love and Bullets. Produced by Elliott Kastner, an old hand at making good, populist entertainment, the production was shot entirely in Vancouver. George Segal plays a renegade cop (were there any other kind in the 1970s?) who has been suspended from the local police force for various infractions. Suddenly, he is recruited by Canadian secret intelligence to help thwart a reputed plot to assassinate Soviet Premier Kosygin, who is due to arrive in a matter of days for a high profile conference. Segal learns that he is being set up in an elaborate and confusing plot that involves traitorous KGB agents who want to kill their own premier in order to prevent him from initiating an era of detente with the West. Their plan involves kidnapping a local dissident (Val Avery), drugging him and using him as a human bomb who will be dropped on Kosygin's limousine from a helicopter! (I'm not making this up.) Along the way, Segal finds he's being set up as a dupe and is framed for murder. The entire tired affair ends in a race against time with Segal going mano-a-mano with a KGB killer on the roof of a landmark hotel that Kosygin is en route to (the only sequence that affords the slightest hint of suspense). Absurdly, Kosygin's motorcade is permitted to continue racing to the hotel despite the fact that hundreds of people are watching a running gun battle taking place on the roof. The film was directed by Lou Lombardo, who made a name for himself as an editor of great talent after supervising the cutting of The Wild Bunch. As director, he keeps the action flowing but the plot absurdities soon distract from some otherwise interesting angles and performances. The fine supporting cast includes Gordon Jackson, Denholm Elliott, Nigel Stock and Louise Fletcher, but their characters are rather boring. The film also throws in Christina Raines for sex appeal but she comes across as the dullest leading lady in memory, barely registering much emotion even when finding a dead body in her bathroom. (Although most of us would find such a development a bit disturbing, Lombardo cuts to a scene of Segal and Raines enjoying a spot of breakfast tea- while the man's body remains on the bathroom floor.) Segal is always enjoyable to watch and his wiseguy persona is in full bloom here, but the production is amateurish on all levels considering the talent involved. Maybe, as with Love and Bullets, everyone involved just wanted a paid getaway and had a desire to visit Vancouver. (It should be mentioned that director Lombardo was said to be battling drinking problems during production and that the finale of the film - the only truly effective scene- was directed by Anthony Squire, who did not receive screen credit.)
Both transfers are adequate though not overly impressive. Love and Bullets was shot in widescreen but is presented here in full screen ratio. Russian Roulette is presented in letterboxed format. There are no extras.
The Warner Archive has reissued Paramount's DVD release of Goodbye, Columbus as a burn-to-order DVD title. The film caused a bit of a sensation in 1969 with its rather graphic- if comical- examination of a young couple's attempts to have a fulfilling sex life and the obstacles they encounter along the way. Based on Philip Roth's best-selling novella, the movie was released at an opportune time when such coming-of-age stories were able to speak to a new, rebellious generation. It was a sizable hit with critics and the public. Yet, the film never comes close to matching the impact of The Graduate, the movie it almost desperately tries to emulate. Richard Benjamin plays Neil Klugman, a young Jewish man living with his over-bearing aunt and uncle in a lower middle-class section of the Bronx. Invited to a swanky country club as a guest of a wealthy cousin, he lays eyes on Brenda Patimkin (Ali MacGraw), a stunningly beautiful college student who is home from Vassar on summer vacation. The two meet cute and before long Neil finds himself awkwardly introduced to Brenda's upper-crust family who reside in a lavish Westchester home, complete with live-in maid. Although Brenda is also Jewish, her parents disapprove of Neil from the outset. He is an ex-army veteran who seems to have no ambitions and is content with his job as a desk clerk in the local library. Brenda's father Ben (Jack Klugman in a fine performance) is a self-made man who can't understand Neil's lack of desire to make his own fortune. Even worse, Brenda's mother (Nan Martin) is a sneering snob who makes it obvious that Neil's social status will never allow her to accept him. Despite these challenges, Brenda and Neil use surreptitious means to make love wherever and whenever they can, including a daring gambit in which he sneaks into her bedroom while staying at the family house as a guest. Ultimately, as the date draws nearer for Brenda to return to school in Boston, the couple begins to worry if their love can survive being separated. The situation becomes rather grim when Neil discovers that Brenda has not been using any birth control methods, which puts a dent in his libido until he convinces her to get a diaphragm. This type of scenario in a film can be found in family comedies today, but back in '69 it was fairly ground-breaking stuff. The rather downbeat and realistic ending was also in contrast to most love stories of the period (even The Graduate ended on a high note.)
The film represented the big screen debuts of Richard Benjamin and Ali MacGraw (though Benjamin had been a familiar face on television for years and had starred in his own short-lived sit-com, He and She with real life wife Paula Prentiss.) Both give fine performances with Benjamin's every day guy appeal in full swing along with his ability for deadpan comedy. The problem is that both actors were far too old for the roles the character they portray. Benjamin was 30 years old at the time and MacGraw was 29-- and they look it. Thus, the film takes on a sense of absurdity to see the couple trying to sneak into the woods so they can make out. Benjamin in particular always looked older than his age and at times it appears as though he is starring in a May/December romance instead of a story about two-love struck kids of college age. Director Larry Peerce handles the proceedings adequately, if not exceptionally. He doesn't strive for big belly laughs but does overdo the Jewish ethnic types, especially in the film's climactic wedding sequence. Most of these characters are out of Central Casting, though there are some genuinely funny moments. Michael Meyers is memorably amusing as Ron, Brenda's affable older brother. He's a college jock with a brain the size of a pea- and despite being a lady's man, seems to have a penchant for touching Neil whenever possible. (Despite getting great reviews, Meyers apparently never acted again.) Arnold Schulman's Oscar-nominated screenplay takes the anti-Establishment aspects of the story to an extreme. Virtually every character other than Brenda and Neil are depicted in a grotesque or absurd manner in a rather pretensious bid to appeal to the youth market. The exception is Klugman's character who is given a beautifully written sequence in which he tells Brenda just how much his family means to him.
Another aspect of the movie that makes it look like a lite version of The Graduate is the use of a contemporary group to provide a hip musical score. However, while Simon and Garfunkel's masterful songs for The Graduate spoke to a generation, the soundtrack songs for Goodbye, Columbus are provided by The Association, the epitome of a white bread band from the 60s who specialized in memorable, but emotionally vacant tunes. This is borne out by the fact that none of the tracks the group sings in the film, including the title song, are the slightest bit memorable.
The Warner Archive DVD is the same transfer as the previous Paramount release, including the rather sloppy photo montage on the sleeve which seems to emulate the feel of My Big Far Greek Wedding. The film's original poster was far more haunting.The picture quality is fine but I had problems discerning some of MacGraw's dialogue and found myself having to constantly raise and lower the volume. There are no bonus extras.
Goodbye, Columbus doesn't resonate today as it once did to audiences in 1969..but it can be recommended as an interesting comment on a generation struggling to come to terms with the lightning-fast pace of the societal changes during that era.
Cinema Retro has released the following press release. (Please note: this American release of The Big Gundown is entirely different from the European special edition released by Explosive Media that we reported on recently).
LOS ANGELES - Grindhouse
Releasing is proud to present the first-ever U.S. home video release of the
greatest Spaghetti Western you’ve never seen: Sergio Sollima’s widescreen epic
THE BIG GUNDOWN!
the legendary Lee Van Cleef as a relentless bounty hunter on the trail of
Cuchillo (Eurofilm superstar Tomas Milian), a savage Mexican outlaw accused of the rape and murder of a
twelve-year-old girl, this release contains fifteen additional minutes of gunslinging
action never before seen in America.
BIG GUNDOWN is one of the most highly acclaimed and long sought-after films in
the spaghetti western genre, hailed by critics for its stunning cinematography,
the amazing performances of Lee Van Cleef (following his iconic role in THE
GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY) and Tomas Milian, the classic Ennio Morricone music
(recently used by Quentin Tarantino in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS), and the riveting
direction of Sergio Sollima.
4-disc deluxe Blu-ray/DVD edition of THE BIG GUNDOWN, including a bonus Blu-ray
of the uncensored director’s cut and a bonus CD of Ennio Morricone’s classic
soundtrack, arrives in stores December 10, 2013.
Click here to order
THE BIG GUNDOWN now on Amazon.com
the trailer on the Grindhouse Releasing YouTube channel:
It's conventional wisdom that 1939 is regarded as the greatest year ever for classic movies. (I respectfully argue that 1969 was even more impressive, but I digress). So many great films were released in this one calendar year: Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Gunga Din and too many others to list. Lost amid this wealth of cinematic treasures is the often-overlooked John Ford classic Drums Along the Mohawk, a movie that certainly ranks among the legendary director's best work, yet it curiously remains among his least-discussed major achievements. The movie has just been released as a Blu-ray special edition by Twilight Time. The film stars Claudette Colbert and Henry Fonda as Lana and Gil Martin, colonial era newlyweds who leave the safety of a big city (Albany, New York) to settle in the upper Hudson Valley, then a no-man's land of hardship and danger for the farmers and settlers who tried to claw out a life there. Their marriage and move to a farm Gil has purchased happens to coincide with the outbreak of the American Revolution. Suddenly, this non-political couple who only want to prosper on their own land find themselves enmeshed in the crisis of the times. Like most farmers, their desire to opt out of the conflict between colonists and British forces turns out to be wishful thinking. The Brits have allied themselves with local Indian tribes who terrorize the settlers through constant raids, forcing them to take refuge in a local fort while they suffer the indignity of watching their farms burn. The fort only provides temporary protection. Short of ammo and provisions, the defenders realize they have precious little time to form a strategy for survival. In the film's most compelling sequence, Gil volunteers to make a seemingly suicidal run through the forest to reach reinforcements at another fort. He is doggedly pursued by three Indian braves who are hot on his heels. Ford milks considerable suspense from the sequence which foreshadows Cornel Wilde's brilliant 1966 movie The Naked Prey. As with any Ford production, however, this one spends considerable time on character development, homespun comedy and American traditions. The battle sequences are impressive but its the actors who make the most of the spotlight with both Colbert and Fonda (in his first of several collaborations with Ford) perfectly cast. There are also Ford stock company regulars like Ward Bond and John Carradine but it is Edna May Oliver who steals the show in an Oscar-nominated performance as a feisty pioneer widow whose forceful nature terrorizes the Indian warriors more than they can intimidate her.
Drums Along the Mohawk was Ford's first color film. It was shot in Technicolor but apparently Fox tossed out the original film elements in the 1970s. This restored version is obviously not as gorgeous as the original theatrical presentations but the film nevertheless looks terrific. Twilight Time has released the movie as a limited edition (3,000 unit) Blu-ray that features some interesting bonus extras. Top of the list is Nick Redman's 2007 feature length documentary Becoming John Ford that traces the mercurial director's long history at Fox and his collaborative productions with studio boss Darryl F. Zanuck. The two would create some great films but ultimately a feud over My Darling Clementine would lead to Ford leaving the studio in 1946. Redman, co-founder of Twilight Time, does a superb job of providing notable talking heads (including Peter Fonda) who provide insightful details on Ford's life and career. Redman also appears on an equally informative commentary track with film historian Julie Kirgo who provides the informative write-ups for the Twilight Time collector's booklets that accompany each release. It's nice to finally hear her speaking directly to viewers and the commentary track is highly entertaining. There is also an original trailer. The only complaint is that the artwork on the sleeve is a bit bland given the star power in the movie.